Sonja Ferlov Mancoba
Photo: Henie Onstad Archive
From July 18th until August 6th, 1978, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter showed a retrosepctive exhibition of the Danish sculptor Sonja Ferlov Mancoba (1911-1984).
Danish art's "grand old lady" joins a long line of female artists, whom in the latter years have received more of the recognition they deserve, though long overdue.
Mancoba has throughout her career rarely been influenced by others. She was however especially interested in the French writer Antonin Artaud, who wrote the manifest of The Theatre of Cruelty. His relationship with the Eastern cultures and rituals inspired Mancoba, and she made several sculptures with mask motifs. For her, freedom in life was the most important: that you are willing to live on an existential minimum to defend your inner freedom. The ideas of Artaud that art was the only bright spot in the despairing situation of mankind, was her life.
Already at the end of 1930, her sculptures were completely revolutionary. Mancoba moved to Paris in 1936 where she befriended artists such as Miro, Max Ernst and Giacometti. She and her husband Ernest Mancoba lived under simple conditions in a closed down grocery store. The home also served as a studio, and was situated in one of the oldest neighborhoods of Paris.
Duriong the first years in Paris, Mancoba mostly painted but when the war broke out in 1938, she went back to her masklike sculptures.
On the photo beneath this text, you can see the only sculpture she worked on during the years of war, which she referred to as her "faithful friend". It kept changing while she was working on it. "It started out quite small. It is as if it contained many, many sculptures where one kept having to make way for the next one because the turn of events were faster than my ability to hold on to the expression of the material….it kept having to answer to new problems…it is mother to all that came after." It was her dialog with life itself.
The exhibition at Henie Onstad was only open for two and a half weeks, and was part of a traveling exhibition touring the Nordic Countries.
Words: Martine Hoff Jensen