Sonja Sekula was a talented Swiss painter and writer, born on April 18, 1918, in Lucerne, Switzerland. Raised in an upper-class family, she had the privilege of traveling throughout Europe during her childhood, which exposed her to various cultures and artistic styles.
In 1936, Sekula’s family relocated to Douglaston, Long Island, near New York City. She began her artistic journey at Sarah Lawrence College in September 1937, studying painting under Kurt Roesch and Rene d’Harnoncourt, and writing under Horace Gregory. Her mental health deteriorated in 1939, resulting in a stay at the New York Hospital in White Plains until 1941.
After her release, Sekula's passion for art led her to the Art Students League in New York, where she studied under Morris Kantor, Raphael Soyer, and George Grosz. Immersing herself in the city's thriving art scene, she became acquainted with renowned artists and intellectuals such as Andre Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Frida Kahlo, Robert Motherwell, and David Hare.
Sonja Sekula's career took off in 1943 when she participated in the Exhibition by 31 Women with “Composition” (1942). Sekula's participation in the exhibition established her place in the art world. Her distinct surrealist style, characterized by automatism, flat geometric shapes, and textured paint, garnered significant attention. Sekula's artistic abilities extended beyond painting, as evidenced by her design of a bodysuit costume for the renowned dancer Merce Cunningham in the mid-1940s.
Sekula's personal life was marked by her openness about her homosexuality and her relationships with women, including her love for Annemarie Schwarzenbach and Alice Rahon. However, it remains uncertain if her feelings were reciprocated. Sekula's lifelong struggle with mental health issues culminated in her return to Switzerland and her tragic suicide in 1963.
Though her life was marked by both triumph and tragedy, Sonja Sekula's contributions to the world of art remain significant. Her works and writings can be explored at sonja-sekula.org and additional information on her life and career can be found in Dieter Schwarz's book, Sonja Sekula 1918-1963 (Winterthur, Switzerland: Kunstmuseum Winterthur, 1996).
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