Sonja Sekula

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Sonia Sekula
Photo of Sonia Sekula.jpg
Sonja Sekula at Andre Breton's Atelier NY 1945
Born(1918-04-08)April 8, 1918
Lucerne, Switzerland
DiedApril 25, 1963(1963-04-25) (aged 45)
Zürich, Switzerland
EducationSarah Lawrence College
Known forPainting
MovementAbstract Expressionism

Sonja Sekula (8 April 1918 – 25 April 1963) (also known as Sonia Sekula) was a Swiss-born artist linked with the abstract expressionist movement, notable for her activity as an "out" lesbian in the New York art world during the 1940s and early 1950s.[1]

She was born in Lucerne on 8 April 1918 to a Swiss mother, Berta Huguenin (1896–1980), and a Hungarian father, Béla Sekula (1881–1966), a philatelist.

She lived in America from 1936 to 1955. She attended Sarah Lawrence College. She met the surrealists in exile in New York during 1942.[2] On 25 April 1963 she hanged herself in her studio in Zurich after many years of mental health issues.[3] She is buried in St. Moritz as she had requested in a letter to her mother.[2]

Early Life[edit]

Childhood to young adulthood: 1918 - 1941[edit]

Sekula and her family relocated to New York from Lucerne, Switzerland when she was a child. She lived in New York, New Mexico, Mexico, and in different cities in Europe.[4]


Sekula moved to New York in 1941. In a letter sent to her mother, Sonja described New York as "very gray. All the steel constructions are waking up and their steel shines towards new work."[5] In New York she befriended American poet Carl Sandburg and met the surrealists in exile during 1942. It was during this time that she became part of an international circle of artists, writers, choreographers, and composers in New York in the 1940s, when she was in her early twenties. She attended the Art Students League in New York in the modernist classes of Morris Kantor.[6] In New York she befriended American poet Carl Sandburg and met the surrealists in exile during 1942. It was during this time that she became part of an international circle of artists, writers, choreographers, and composers in New York in the 1940s, when she was in her early twenties.[1]

Peggy Guggenheim included Sekula in the 1943 exhibition "31 Women" at her Art of This Century gallery, and gave her a solo exhibition in 1946. Betty Parsons Gallery exhibited Sekula's work in 1948.[7]

Sekula returned to Switzerland with her family in 1955 and remained there for the rest of her life. Despite her struggle with mental health problems, in 1955 Sekula had a solo exhibition at Galerie Palette, Zurich.[8]

Personal Life[edit]

Sonja was extremely passionate about her artwork, expressing how proud she was to be around all the other artists and movements in New York during the 1940s. Her instructor described her as being "easy to get along with" yet also being "highly disturbed"[5] When compared to her other students, Kantor explained "no matter what she did it was of great interest compared with the other students. She was always one of the best in the class. Her work was much more creative and moving than most; it always had great spirit."[5]

Sonja Sekula was also extremely open about her homosexuality, and made frequent references to it in her writings and journals. In one entry, she wrote the following:

1960: "Let homosexuality be forgiven, let us hope that she will be welcome in the Greek mythology and protected by pagan nature gods as well for most often she did not sin against nature but tried to be true to the law of her own - To feel guilt about having loved a being of your own kind body and soul is hopeless - let us hope there were many pure moments in each of these attractions and loves - into which the realm of sphere and eternity and silence entered as well."[5]

Sonja Sekula had a history of mental illness, having been admitted to several mental health clinics throughout her life.[2] This aspect of her life was also well-documented in her own writings and journals:

1957: "I do not feel part of any country or race. I was well when they called me sick and often sick when they thought I am well. Have in thoughts been surprised at the vanity of others and surprised also at my own."[5] 1961: "I hope to die without too much pain. Life was an interesting experience. I do not regret it-"[5]


  • 1943 - Group show Exhibition by 31 Women, Art of This Century gallery, New York[9]
  • 1948 - Betty Parsons Gallery, New York
  • 1953 - Group Show "Nine Women Painters", Bennington College, Bennington, Vermont
  • 1957 - Galerie Palette, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 1996 - Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (1 June - 11 August)
  • 1996 - Sonja Sekula (1918–1963): A Retrospective, Swiss Institute, New York, USA (12 September - 26 October)[10]
  • 2016 - "Sonja Sekula, Max Ernst, Jackson Pollock & Friends", Kunstmuseum Luzern, Switzerland
  • 2017 - Sonja Sekula: A Survey, Peter Blum Gallery, New York[11]
  • 2019 - "Sparkling Amazons: Abstract Expressionist Women of the 9th St." Katonah Museum of Art, Westchester County, NY.[12].


  • Womb - poem and drawing - VVV, March 1943
  • Who was Sonia Sekula?, Art in America, October 1971[13]
  • A Golden Girl Escaping Into Infinity, New York Times, 20 September 1996[10]
  • Sonja Sekula - Im Zeichen der Frage, im Zeichen der Antwort. Ausgewählte Texte und Wortbilder, (in German and English) Lenos Verlag, Zürich 1996. ISBN 3-85787-250-0
  • Dunkelschwestern - Annemarie von Matt und Sonja Sekula, by Roger Perret and Roman Kurzmeyer, 2008
  • Sonja Sekula & Friends, by Kunstmuseum Luzern, 2016


  1. ^ Richard Mann (2015),
  2. ^ a b c "Sonja Sekula - Time Line". Retrieved 2016-03-06.
  3. ^,4.html
  4. ^ "Sonja Sekula's Time May Have Finally Come". Hyperallergic. 2017-04-30. Retrieved 2020-04-27.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Art in America". Retrieved 2020-04-27.
  6. ^ "Sonja Sekula - Time Line". Retrieved 2020-04-27.
  7. ^ "Sonja Sekula - Time Line". Retrieved 2020-05-10.
  8. ^ "Sonja Sekula - Time Line". Retrieved 2020-04-27.
  9. ^ Butler, Cornelia H.; Schwartz, Alexandra (2010). Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art. New York: Museum of Modern Art. p. 45. ISBN 9780870707711.
  10. ^ a b Glueck, Grace. "A Golden Girl Escaping Into Infinity". New York Times. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  11. ^ Yau, John. "Sonja Sekula's Time May Have Finally Come". Hyperallergic. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Art in America". Retrieved 2016-03-06.