Literated Subjects – Present Tense


Ernest Mancoba

The Foundation De 11 Lijnen presents the second exhibition in a two-part series exploring the themes of creative freedom and identity. At the heart of both exhibitions lies one of the most defining forces of the twenty-first century: the pursuit and expression of individuality in an increasingly homogenous and interconnected world.

The first exhibition, Liberated Subjects: Pioneers, was rooted in the early twentieth century. Paintings by South African born artist Ernest Mancoba (1904-2002) were shown alongside works by three living women artists from the same generation: Etel Adnan, Monir Farmanfarmaian and Carmen Herrera. All four artists, who studied and worked in Europe or America, were amongst the first to interpret the aesthetics of their respective countries through the medium of Western abstraction.

Ernest Mancoba, who left Africa to study art in Paris in 1938, infused modern European art with a unique African spirit. One of the founding members of the CoBrA group, his unique style is characterised by subtle colours, dynamic compositions and diffuse, enigmatic forms. In the words of Rasheed Araeen: ‘With Mancoba, the place of Africa in modernity is no longer that of an appropriated object but that of a liberated subject … Africa’s place is no longer peripheral to the mainstream history of modernism but central within it.’

Mancoba’s oeuvre is also central to the second instalment of the project, Liberated Subjects: Present Tense. This exhibition brings the story, which began almost a century ago, up to date. In this presentation, the focus is upon more recent developments in contemporary art, with Mancoba’s paintings providing an historical counterpoint to the work produced by a younger generation of African artists. While their practices are very varied, they all share a common denominator: like Mancoba, they depart from their cultural legacy and roots, and create work that touches upon universal concerns. Each of the artists represented in Present Tense expresses, in a unique way, the search for a sense of self, or an interpretation of identity.

Liberated Subjects: Present Tense builds on the themes developed in the first exhibition – the ability of art to transcend geographical, political or cultural limitations – and also looks at the urgent issues of globalisation and identity, and the legacies of colonialism, nationalism and modernity.

Sean O’Toole describes what this means today: ‘Contemporary African art isn’t something exclusively made in or from Africa; it comes from Addis Ababa, Algiers, Amsterdam, Bamako, Berlin, Cairo, Cape Town, Cotonou, Dakar, Douala, Johannesburg, Lagos, London, Lubumbashi, Marrakesh, Munich, Nairobi, New York, Paris, Tangiers and elsewhere. These cities sometimes share affinities, but mostly not. One word designating a continent is a poor proxy for what in reality is an atomised, dynamic and geographically imprecise set of practices.’
(‘Artists not Geographies should be our Focus’ in C&, column,

The exhibition includes work by Ernest Mancoba and the following artists:

Yto Barrada (b. 1971, France) Marlene Dumas (b. 1953, South Africa) Meschac Gaba (b. 1961, Benin) Theaster Gates (b. 1973, USA) Nicholas Hlobo (b. 1975, South Africa) Julie Mehretu (b. 1970, Ethiopia) Robin Rhode (b. 1976, South Africa) Pascale Marthine Tayou (b. 1967, Cameroon) Kemang Wa Lehulere (b. 1984, South Africa) Jack Whitten (b. 1939, USA) Lynette Yiadom Boakye (b. 1977, UK) Portia Zvavahera (b.1985, Zimbabwe)


A catalogue of the exhibition will be published.