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Sonja Ferlov Mancoba

As a student in the painting class at the recently established Kunsthåndværkerskolen (Danish Design School) Sonja Ferlov Mancoba (1911-1984) met in 1931 Ejler Bille, Richard Mortensen and Gertrud Vasegaard. The following year she was a student at Kunstakademiet (Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts) in Copenhagen.
Sonja Ferlov began her artistic career as a painter, and quite early she developed connections with the Danish avant-garde that gathered in the group linien. During a stay with the sisters Lisbeth Munch-Petersen and Gertrud Vasegaard in Bornholm in 1935 – together with Bille and Mortensen – she made her first sculptures of branches, which she intuitively put together into three-dimensional figures. Later that summer she created sculptures out of clay. The same year she made her debut at Den surrealistiske Udstilling (The surrealist Exhibition) in Odense.
In 1936 Sonja Ferlov moved to Paris, where she obtained a studio in the same building as Alberto Giacometti, with whom she established a lifelong friendship. She became the link between the international and the Danish worlds of art, and as such she contributed to introducing new views on art in Denmark. In 1938 she met her husband, the South African painter Ernest Mancoba.
The post-war years became turbulent for Sonja Ferlov. She appeared in the Cobra movement in various connections, but never participated in Cobra’s exhibitions. Disagreements and misunderstandings between her and her fellow artists made the family settle down in France, where they withdrew from the artistic world for a long time. There are no known sculptures from this period. Not until the 1960s – when she moved back to Paris – did she seriously resume her artistic work, and in the years until her death she created many major works.
Sonja Ferlov was rooted in surrealism. She worked with her sculptures in an intuitive manner: They were created forthright, without any sketches and in dialogue with the material. Her work process was slow, meticulous and extremely self-critical. She went over the sculptures again and again only to often destroy the finished work, because it did not live up to the heavy demands that she made on herself. That is one of the reasons that only approx. 110 different sculptures from her hand are known.
Sonja Ferlov was especially influenced by African art. She had learned about African art already as a child through her parents’ friend Carl Kjersmeier, who had Denmark’s largest collection of African figures and masks. In the mid-1930s Sonja Ferlov introduced her fellow artists to African art. The art of foreign cultures was regarded as unsophisticated and true. The mask motif appears in her sculptures from 1938 and onward.
Like her fellow artists Sonja Ferlov believed that art could contribute towards changing the world by communicating values like trust, equality, tolerance and humanity. She thought it to be the duty of the artist to create a connection between the world of art and the political and social world just as the shaman in so-called primitive religions creates a connection between the spirits and man.
Sonja Ferlov Mancoba