Ernest (Methuen) Mancoba

Ernest (Methuen) Mancoba was born in South Africa on 29th August 1904 to Miner Father. He was an avant-garde artist who spent the majority of his life in Europe. Ernest (Methuen) Mancoba is considered to be South Africa’s first professional Black modern artist. He died on 25th October 2002 aged 98 years old.

Ernest (Methuen) Mancob’s interest in art began in 1925 at Grace Dieu secondary school near Pietersburg where he had enrolled a year earlier. In 1929, he tried his hand at freestanding sculpture, and produced a commissioned work called African Madonna using a model in a contrapposto stance. The African Madonna is probably the first modern sculpture produced by a Black South African, and is now on permanent display at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. Ernest (Methuen) Mancob left South Africa for Europe in 1938 when he received a scholarship to continue his studies in Paris, where he enrolled at the École Nationale Supérieure Des Arts Décoratifs.

In 1947, Mancoba living in Copenhagen met Asger Jorn, Constant Nievwenhuys and Corneille Guillaume Beverloo who were a part of the new Art Movement sweeping Europe called – Cobra Movement. Although Mancoba was an active participant with Cobra members and in later artistic movements, his role received little attention in art historical scholarship. Leading artist and scholar Rasheed Araeen to argue in 2004 that the erasure of Mancoba was the result of racism and ethnocentrism.

In the 1950s, Mancoba returned to Paris, where he became a French citizen. In 1957, Mancoba painted “Untitled 1957”. An oil on canvas painting bearing bold colors and energetic gestures of demanding lines. He sought transparency in his painting process while depicting a freedom of expression through abstraction. Ernest Mancoba’s style is composed of line movement often encompassing a central figure-like form that dissolves into the surrounding abstract atmosphere of colorful oils, charcoal, ink or pastel marks. In the late 1980s and until his passing, Mancoba shifted his format to landscape and strayed from one central figure to many calligraphic strokes with various mediums.

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