ART: 3 New Shows open @ Stevenson

By philip
16 January 2014

Stevenson Cape Town has three new exhibitions that opened on Thursday 16 January.

EWS features work from the estates of of ERNEST MANCOBA, WONGA MANCOBA, SONJA FERLOV MANCOBA

VIVIANE SASSEN – a photographic exhibition titled PIKIN SLEE


Stevenson is pleased to present an exhibition in partnership with Galerie Mikael Andersen, Copenhagen and Berlin, of works from the Estates of Ernest Mancoba, his wife Sonja Ferlov and their son Wonga. When Sonja Ferlov Mancoba wrote letters from her and her family, she always signed them with the letters EWS – for Ernest, Wonga and Sonja. It is these three letters that give the exhibition its title and theme.

Mancoba is arguably the most important modern artist from South Africa, and perhaps Africa, yet unlike some of his contemporaries like Gerard Sekoto, his work has not received widespread critical revaluation. The British artist and activist Rasheed Araeen, in a keynote address to the South African Visual Arts Historians in 2008, 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.

Ernest 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, Ernest 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 both 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.

As a sculptor, Sonja Ferlov Mancoba (born 1911) was a member of the Danish surrealist group linien, which later formed the artistic foundation of the CoBrA group. Sonja moved to Paris early in her career, where she quickly made international connections and artist friends and met Ernest Mancoba. Sonja and Ernest were strongly bound together both as a couple and artistically: Ernest later stated that a separation of them and their work would be the same as a negation of their lives. Her sculptures spanning the years from the 1930s through to the 1970s display two distinct themes: one is centred on the motif of the mask which represents the influence of ethnographic objects and tribal arts, and the other is inspired by organic and abstract forms. These two different ideas are almost united in her later work in sculptures such as Le roi des gueux (1972-73).

Wonga Mancoba (born 1946) works with language as a means of inspiration in his paintings, and in many ways his works carry on the tradition from his parents. His paintings and drawings are often based on historical events, for example the brutal treatment and eradication of black South Africans from Sophiatown in Johannesburg (1955/6). This event has both a personal significance for Wonga as well as a historical one. His paintings make visual reference to the drawings of Ernest Mancoba but words have been painted into the composition, thus they are loaded with signs and symbols, imbuing several layers of meaning.

In 2012, Wonga Mancoba and Mikael Andersen discovered a collection of works by Ernest Mancoba in the studio that he had shared with Sonia for many years. This occasion is the first time these works have been exhibited in Africa, 20 years after the retrospective exhibition of Mancoba and Ferlov’s work at the Johannesburg Art Gallery and the South African National Gallery in Cape Town in 1994, which was the only time Ernest Mancoba returned to South Africa from exile.

The galleries would like to thank Martin Heller, Berlin, for his assistance in realising the exhibition.


Viviane Sassen

Viviane Sassen

Pikin Slee is the second-largest village on the Upper Suriname River, deep within the rainforest of Suriname. Its 4000 inhabitants are mostly members of the Saramacca tribe, their ancestors Maroons who escaped slavery on the Dutch plantations in the 18th century.

The Saramacca are isolated from the outside world, living without running water, electricity, roads or the internet. The only way to access the village is by canoe, a journey of about three hours up-river. They grow their food on small agricultural plots, producing cassava bread, pressed maripa palm oil and dried coconut.

In her first visit to Pikin Slee in the summer of 2012, Sassen was intrigued by the village and its inhabitants; she saw her own history as somehow tied to theirs, in their respective connections to Africa and the Netherlands. Her eye was caught by the overwhelming natural surrounds and the Saramacca’s very traditional way of living, combined with the more mundane objects which seemed to seep through daily life. Mainly in black and white and of contained format, Sassen’s series of abstract compositions and elusive subjects are an exploration of the beauty of the everyday, an investigation of the sculptural qualities of the ordinary.

The monograph Pikin Slee will be published by Prestel in the first part of 2014.


Portia Zvavahera

Portia Zvavahera

Stevenson presents new paintings by Portia Zvavahera in an exhibition titled Mavambo Erwendo (Beginning of a Profound Journey) – her first at the gallery.

Zvavahera was born in 1985 in Juru, Zimbabwe, and in 2013 she represented Zimbabwe at the Venice Biennale as part of the exhibition Dudziro: Interrogating the Visions of Religious Beliefs at the Zimbabwean Pavilion, curated by Raphael Chikukwa.

Zvavahera’s paintings display a deep understanding of colour and the language of Expressionism in a raw style of painting seldom seen in southern Africa. A distinctive aspect of her works is her integration of her painterly mark-making with print-making in the form of textile-like patterns in her imagery. Her subjects are drawn from her life and dreams and express her deeply personal concerns relating to marriage and birth, parental love, human isolation and social injustice. Her dramatic imagery is deeply rooted in religious narratives from both the Old Testament and indigenous African religions, and she is particularly interested in how contemporary Pentecostal, charismatic and Afro-Apostolic sects in Zimbabwe weave together Christian and African elements to create new theatres of meaning. Symbolism is central to these practices, and Zvavahera draws on their rituals and artifacts for her own Expressionist imagery.

WHERE: Stevenson Cape Town, Buchanan Building, 160 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock, Cape Town

WHEN: The exhibition opens on Thursday 16 January 2014, from 6 to 8pm. The gallery is open from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and Saturday from 10am to 1pm.