Ernest Mancoba (1904 – 2002)

Winnie Sze proposes to interrogate the significant but overlooked role a black African artist played on the founding of CoBRA.  Ernest Mancoba (1904 – 2002) was born in South Africa but completed his formal training in Paris in the late 1930s. He is said to be a founding member of CoBRA but that the group never came to fully accept him.   One reason, according to Mancoba, is “the embarrassment that my presence caused to the point of making me, in their eyes, some sort of ‘Invisible Man’”[1].

What was Mancoba’s relationship with CoBRA?  How did he come to identify with the group when he was turning away from the traditionalism of his initial practice to engage with Modernism?  Did the group who honoured folk art and craft prefer that Mancoba’s work be “primitive” instead?  What role did art institutions play? Winnie will look to the archives of the Van Abbemuseum as well as those of South African museums to try to answer these questions.  Her residence concludes with the presentation of a paper. 

Winnie Sze is a London and Cape Town based freelance curator.  She studied fine art at the University of British Columbia, Canada.  She started and ran AUGUST art, a contemporary art project space in London, UK, for 7+ years.  The last 4 years she has been residing in South Africa where she has curated exhibitions for the District 6 Museum and Iziko South African National Gallery. 

Winnie is also founder of Social Fabric SA, a not-for-profit collaboration platform for artists, designers and textile manufacturers.  The project’s aim is to help rebuild South Africa’s embattled textile industry, a once significant employer in the economy, through the development of a design-led innovation pipeline.

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