Ernest Mancoba was born and raised under the South African apartheid system. In 1938 he moved to Paris to study, work, and especially to think, freely, as an artist. In Paris, Mancoba met with the Danish artists’ colony and soon joined the CoBrA circle. In 1942, he married the Danish artist, Sonja Ferlov Mancoba. Ernest Mancoba’s work represents a unique synthesis of modern European art and African spirit.
His goal was to bring to European art his deep understanding of African culture, represented by the frequently appearing totems in his drawings and paintings that reflect the umuntu philosophy he so often referred to: A human is a human by and for other people. After the end of apartheid, Mancoba was honoured with large retrospectives at the National Gallery in Cape Town and the Museum of Modern Art in Johannesburg.