Ernest Mancoba is arguably the most important modern artist from South Africa, and perhaps Africa, yet his work has not received widespread critical revaluation. The British artist and activist Rasheed Araeen, in an essay reproduced here, described Mancoba as one of the most important artists in any genealogy of African modernism:
[H]e is Africa's most original modern artist, but, more importantly ... he enters the space of modernism formed and perpetuated by the colonial myth of white racial supremacy and superiority ... and demolishes it from within.
Mancoba was born in 1904 in Johannesburg, and died in 2002 in Paris, France. He trained as a teacher in Pietersburg, and received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Fort Hare. In 1938 he left South Africa for Paris, where he studied at the École des Arts Décoratifs. The outbreak of World War II prevented him from leaving Paris and, in 1940, he was interned by the Germans in St Denis where he married Danish artist Sonja Ferlov in 1942. After their release, Ernest and Sonja settled in Denmark where they became members of the newly founded CoBrA group of abstract artists (CoBrA is an abbreviation of COpenhagen, BRussels, Amsterdam), and he exhibited with the legendary group between 1948 and 1950. In 1952 they returned to France with their young son, Wonga, and were together until Sonja's death in 1984.
Throughout Mancoba's life, he searched for the universal in art and humanity in the belief that art was 'a means to favour a greater consciousness in Man, which ... is part of the struggle for any human liberation' (interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, also reproduced here). Over the course of his life, Mancoba was dedicated to recreating a single image, loosely based on the human form as represented by the West African Kota reliquary figures. As time went by, its expression was reduced further and further in his search for the purest essence of the figurative form.
Mikael Andersen has known Mancoba and his wife since the 1960s, and his gallery has represented their estates since their respective deaths. The works in this catalogue were found by Wonga Mancoba and Mikael Andersen in 2012, in the studio that Ernest shared with his wife Sonja for many years.
Published by Stevenson | Catalogue 75, January 2014
Softcover, 64 pages | Unavailable