Réorganisation, by Chéri Samba, 2002
Congo Art Works
Hello! We (my better half and I) are thinking about traveling to Kinshasa next year for a first acquaintance with the local Congolese culture. Our ultimate destination is Goma (North Kivu), but because of the political conflicts and the violence it’s better to wait a few more years. In the mean time, I try to expand my knowledge about the history of this country, including the colonial period. With this in mind, you can understand why I wouldn’t miss an exhibition about Congolese art in Brussels 😉 .
Congo Art Works is curated by the Congolese artist Sammy Baloji and the Flemish anthropologist Bambi Ceuppens. It’s a collaboration between Bozar, who is hosting the expo, and the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren. In the first picture we see a painting made by Chéri Samba that was commissioned by the Royal Museum for Central Africa. The museum is currently closed for the public because they are renovating, and that’s a great time to rethink the way Congo should be presented to the visitors. So far, there was a rather paternalistic vision behind the museum collection. As a visitor, it gave you the idea that Congo was all about nature and that culture was brought there by Western countries. Now, we are more and more aware that Congo had and still has its own unique culture. Especially the younger generation of Belgian and Congolese citizens are making this change happen, although it’s a long process. In 2013, the museum in Tervuren bought a collection of 2000 paintings, photographs and objects from the Polish professor Bogumil Jewiewicki. The curators show us a selection of this ‘new’ collection in Bozar. At first, when you see these paintings, you see all the bright colors, as if you are about to see something joyful. But if you pay attention you realize quite fast that that isn’t the case.
As the title of the exhibition says, the art work presented here is called ‘popular painting’. It means that the local artists were (and still are) painting about social issues that people talk about. Think about subjects like politics, power, religion, poverty, war and health, anything that large groups of citizens are concerned about.
The artists didn’t have the best material to make paintings that will last forever, so they used everything they could find. For example, some of them painted on used jute bags that were made to transport food and raw materials. Or they used paint intended to paint buildings or walls. Because of all this, the only thing that really mattered was the image and the message behind it.
Belgian time, by Angali, 1919
Coloniser’s aim, by Kapend, 2002
The two paintings above date back to the colonial period. It illustrates the horrific abuse of power by King Leopold II in order to enrich himself (and Belgium) with the profit from his local rubber industry.
Arrest and torture of Lumumba, by Dominique Bwalye Mwando, 2005
Mumumba’s execution, Burozi, 1995
The murder on Patrice Lumumba in 1961 is one of the subjects that still creates a lot of discussion and emotions today. Lumumba was one of the people who made the independence of Congo happen. After the independence in 1960, Lumumba was elected Prime Minister. He dared to criticize the Belgian government very strongly in a public speech, which made him popular to the public, but dangerous to foreign authorities. It is still not a 100% clear who murdered him, but the Belgian government had something to do with it, as well as Mobutu (who came to power for the first time in 1960) and other western countries.
Flight of Mobutu, by Chéri Chérin, 2004
This painting tells the story of the defeat of Mobutu. Mobutu Sese Seko, who used to be a friend of Lumumba, tried to rule Congo after the independence. Around 1965 he turned more and more towards a cruel dictator, using symbols like the leopard hat to illustrate his power. Congo became ‘Zaire‘ under his power. He wanted to create a unique African nation without any ‘white’ influence. Yet he was supported by several western countries and other African dictators, so he was able to enrich himself and his entourage, while the population was starving. After the Cold War, western governments didn’t want to negotiate with dictators any more. Mobutu lost his support and eventually had to leave the country in 1997. Laurent-Désiré Kabila became president and his son Joseph took over in 2001 after he was also murdered.
Demon-cratie, by Chéri Chérin, 2000
Here we see an image of Congo as it has been for the last 15 years. Some boarders are closed with bricks, while the boarder with Rwanda is wide open. East Congo is being plundered for it’s raw materials like cobalt, with the support of some rebel groups. The international media is present, as well as the UN, but nobody seems to do anything about it. In the mean while, local citizens are being murdered. We also see a Chinese man fishing. This refers to a proverbe: ‘In troebel water is het goed vissen / In troubled waters it’s good fishing‘, meaning that they are the ones who benefit economically from the conflicts in Congo.
Struggle for survival, by Chéri Chérin, 2002
There is still a lot of poverty in Congo, although there is also a middle class. Chéri Chérin shows us how the hospitals are only used by the wealthier people of Congo, while the pore citizens turn to local practitioners for medical aid.
Until 22/01/2017 @ Bozar, Brussels.
More info about the artists here:
Info and tickets: