Upcoming exhibitions


Freedom through Art

18 September – 12 December 2021

Ernest Mancoba (1904–2002) is considered one of South Africa’s first modern avant-garde artists although he spent most of his life in Europe.

Characteristic of Mancoba’s career was his permanent struggle against racism and marginalisation. As a writer and intellectual social critic, he adopted Marxist ideologies and, as a visual artist, he advocated universal humanist aesthetics governed by the subconscious, the spiritual, and the rhythms of nature.

Born in Johannesburg, the son of a miner, Mancoba had already started to dabble in woodcarving at school. In 1929, he created his breakthrough work, the free-standing wooden sculpture, African Madonna, now on permanent display as a national treasure at the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

In 1938, Mancoba received a grant enabling him to escape from the racist regime in South Africa to Paris where he studied at the École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs. In Paris, he met a number of international artists, among them the Jewish-Danish sculptor, Sonja Ferlov, co-founder of the surrealist artists’ association Linien, which championed abstract art during the 1930s in Denmark.

Mancoba and Ferlov – both belonging to minorities in Europe during the 1930s – joined forces and shared a studio. In 1940, Mancoba was interned by the German occupational power in a camp in St. Denis where he and Ferlov married in 1942. After the war, Ferlov and Mancoba settled in Denmark and, in 1946, their son Wonga was born. In Copenhagen, the artist couple accepted Asger Jorn’s invitation to take part in the Autumn Exhibitions of 1948 and 1949, which led to a brief affiliation with the international CoBrA movement.

In the 1950s, Mancoba and Ferlov returned to Paris to live. Mancoba died in 2002 aged 98.

With his expressive wooden sculptures manifest in the crossroads between figuration and abstraction, his drawings and paintings, Mancoba managed to unite the Central European avant-garde with his African background and culture. His impulsive and calligraphic pictures are characterised by marked black lines, bright colourful sections, and a transparency documenting the experimental artistic process. His works attest to an artistic search for an expression that strives to uphold the openness of art and the autonomy of the artist.

With around fifteen works, Museum Jorn has one of Europe’s largest collections of Ernest Mancoba’s art.

The exhibition is an attempt to draw attention to one of the most neglected figures of the post-war avant-garde and the CoBrA movement.

Picture credit:
Ernest Mancoba, Untitled, 1939
Indian ink and watercolour on paper, 26.7 x 20.6 cm
Museum Jorn, Silkeborg


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