where do the perspectives start?
A luminous event happened in the most silent discretion and in a resolute inconsequence: the rehabilitation, through contemporary practices, of the pre-colonial “Congolese” artist. The artistic gesture made in this particular social, cultural, historical and political framework is the audacity to create and invent what is not from what is. This same audacity is required to shape sculptures of faces (mask) and bodies (nkisi) to invoke the spirits, for example, and not only the most benevolent ones. It requires an understanding of things that were undoubtedly contemporary, timeless and therefore simply artistic to dare to propose Kifwebe to the political and cultural community in which one found oneself. The deadly conflicts of the second half of the nineties followed a widespread disenchantment and decay of the post-colonial society that had lost its consideration for the elements of the imaginary. After long years of a foreign regency structured around the exploitation of territory and bodies, and the profitable extraction of rubber, ivory, wood, gold, copper and uranium, contemporary artists in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Goma, Kisangani, are finally reclaiming the artistic gesture as one persisting in leaving the framework firmly fixed around life, and which has been made monstrous, jostled and become torn apart by history and current events.
From time immemorial, the artist in the Congo, in its pre-colonial political communities as well as in its colonial and post-colonial marginality, has deciphered and manoeuvred politics – that is to say, life, its organisation, its exploitation and its perspectives. In our case, existential emergencies still oppress and literally shake the body and mind, as opposed to the boredom and gentrification of creators that once led to the creation of art for art‘s sake.
The artistic gesture was not colonised and was not destroyed by colonisation, which from the outset considered it primitive and pagan. It was undoubtedly the greatest affront to the civilising mission of the colonial project and posed, just for the imagination it incites, as the most formidable enemy of the dictatorship, set up shortly after the country’s independence. In the practices of contemporary artists, however, it appears quite early on that there is a need to continue to create from the framework inherited from colonisation, and to take this framework out of the logic of negating life as a project of exploitation. It should be noted that there have already been several attempts to make these same logics allies of life, for example when colonial propaganda claimed that it had put an end to slavery or when the Mobutu dictatorship took credit for the end of tribalism and sectarianism.
It is not insignificant that it is always the younger generation that comes forward and makes its gesture. The Laboratoire Kontempo is, as its name suggests, an invitation to go beyond what is and beyond the conventional limits of perception and thought.
Mega Mingiedi, through the image of the civil servant, projects himself into a viscerally reformed framework, where all the words usually associated with “colony” find a smoother meaning. This is what he calls the Post-post-colony.
Séphora Mianda examines the genesis of the patterns on the wax cloths that were adopted as traditional clothing in Congo, following colonisation and Mobutu’s dictatorial propaganda. To do so, she uses the Mandombé script, invented and developed from 1978 onwards by the researcher Wabeladio Payi. Peter Miyalu takes a look at the absurdity of certain aesthetic values inherited from colonisation, such as the impurity and ugliness of frizzy hair, by taking part in a shaving act in equally absurd circumstances.
Paulvi Ngimbi questions the materiality of the symbol of the cross and its variations. He analyses its plasticity, its perfect forms that settle in the unconscious as a permanent trace of the perfection of Christ’s sacrifice, and as a hypnotic call to contemplation and not to action.
The duo Mukenge-Schellhammer tackles the violence of the other’s gaze and the submission it produces. They play with this gaze isolated in its omnipotence, which can no longer go towards the other and becomes aware of the common nature of men.
Prisca Tankwey and Godelive Kasangati both question the clichés in which the African continent is enclosed and to which Africans themselves are foreigners. Kasangati, for example, looks at the lack of means and diversity of the imagination due to the foreign languages imposed during colonisation.
Manzambi sketches out the city by bringing together at four major crossroads in Kinshasa Matala Mukadi Tshiakatumba, the cursed poet, obstinate and obsessed with the idea of a country where everything can be expressed and realised; Bodys Isek Kingelez, the artist with marvellous urban utopias; and an anonymous young student from Kinshasa who tells in his not-to-be-missed street interviews how he drew up plans for a robot to lighten the load of certain jobs in the city, such as the one of road traffic regulation.
Imagining this encounter is in itself a scandalous assertion and a call to see that what is not is in fact fundamental and indispensable.
All these proposals support the idea of an art that thinks of itself in the absolute as a useful proposition. Aware of their relevance, urgency and subjectivity, the proposals are part of a discourse of renewal and vivification of society. They assert their non-negotiable place alongside life, and not in the midst of the dead who have haunted art throughout history and who continue to do so.