With a platform of vibrant and colorful vitality, 1926-2015 – Congo Kitoko exhibition was presented at the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain last month in Paris.
Starting from the 1920s, the exhibition traces nearly a century of Congolese art production. Albeit painting is at the heart of the exhibition, sculpture, photography and comics have also just as an important place and offer the public a unique opportunity to discover the ecclectic universe of Congo.
When the country was still a Belgian colony in the 1920s, the Belgian administrators discovered in the town of Bukama a group of huts painted. Enchanted by the paintings, he met their author, ivory carver Albert Lubaki and his wife Antoinette Lubaki. These artists set the beginnings of the history of modern Congolese art, their work dealing with nature-related themes to everyday life, local fables and dreams.
In 1946, French painter Pierre Romain-Desfossés moved to Elizabethville (today’s Lumumbashi) and founded the Atelier du Hangar, a workshop school in which until the end of the 1950s many Congolese artists would let their imagination take control and create breathtaking works. Amongst them three artists would stand out, each of whom developed a distinctive technique: Bela, painting with his fingers. Pilipili Mulongoy, filling every empty space of a multitude of small circles or bright color accents. Mwenze Kibwanga, covering the canvas cross-hatching and alternates ocher, beige and brown colors.
Following World War II, the Belgian government introduced a series of administrative, cultural and social reforms that led to the modernization of Leopoldville (today’s Kinshasa). From there Photography became a way of reaffirming one’s social status in the flourishing cosmopolitan city, its lively nightlife by visiting the most fashionable bars and nightclubs, resounding with the rhythms of the rumba and the cha-cha.
In the 1970s, the exhibition Art Partout presented in Kinshasa would reveal to the general public many self-proclaimed “popular artists”. They started painting mostly advertising signs and made comics, and then settled in Kinshasa’s streets, exhibiting their paintings on the facades of their workshops so that they would be visible for all. These artist were and are inspired by everyday life in Kinshasa and deal with political, social or related to art news. Colorful painted frank and spontaneous, their paintings sometimes include texts that combine humor and derision that strengthen social scope images, amongst them artist Chéri Samba, Cheri Cherin and Moke.
In the light of the 2000s, the Academy of Fine Arts in Kinshasa becomes a place of openness, thus suitable to new artistic experiments and facilitating the emergence of a new generation of artists on the Congolese art scene, from Steve Bandoma His Cassius Clay series examining the impact of the historic Ali-Foreman boxing match – which took place in Kinshasa in 1974 – on the memory and cultural identity of the Congolese people to Sammy Baloji using photomontage in his series Congo Far West, where he associates documentary photographs of a Belgian scientific expedition to the province of Katanga (1898-1900) with watercolors of the painter Pierre Dardenne (1865-1900).
The exhibition runs until November 15, 2015 – Fondation Cartier 261 Boulevard Raspail, 75014 Paris