L’atelier du peintre shows the painter Mampuya at work in his open air studio in Kinshasa’s township Lingwala. Through a well-considered framing of the image, a playful reference is made to the genre in western painting of ‘the artist in his studio’ – and especially to Velazquez’ Las Meninas: the painting that became paradigmatic for the game of looking and being looked at in art.
Like many other private parcels in Lingwala, Mampuya’s studio is marked off from the public space – and the public gaze – by walls and doors of corrugated iron. This urban scenography, together with the allusion to Las Meninas in the video image, has inspired the specific set-up of this work in the exhibition: a projection behind corrogated iron with peep-holes.
‘Le blanc a joui trois mille ans du privilège de voir sans qu’on le voie. Aujourd’hui ces hommes noirs nous regardent et notre regard rentre dans nos yeux; des torches noires, à leur tour, éclairent le monde.’ (J.P. Sartre)
La Boue is a two-channel video documentation of a performance in public space – from white to black.
Androa (autoportrait) is an audiovisual experiment with the genre of the self-portrait. The viewer stands face to face with the life size portrait of Androa, who films himself while running around in the domain of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Kinshasa.
A self-portrait in motion. A pradoxical self-portrait, conceived by others and registered almost automatically by the handycam in Androa’s hand. Androa partly controls the image, checking it on the display of the camera while it is registered, but he also looses himself in it. This portrait never fixes his image; it is a continuous production of ever changing close-ups with ever changing backgrounds.
In these close-ups the viewer can read exhaustion and perseverance, duration and endurance, suffering and jouissance.
Who is this ‘coming man’? – the viewer might ask himself. Obviously, it is someone who ‘goes for it’ – but for what? Where is he going to? He seems to be running towards us; but at the same time he always keeps about the same distance to the camera/the viewer.
While Androa is getting out of breath, the relations self/self and self/other are at stake.
L’homme et son ombre (The Man and his Shadow) shows the genesis – and destruction – of an artwork by Francis Mampuya. The camera captures the unique moment of creation, where lines are born and shapes appear out of nothing. The viewer can witness the fascinating artistic process of the renown Congolese artist.
The cinematographic way in which this artistic process is captured, is a variation on Clouzot’s film Le mystère Picasso. This evokes questions about inspiration and imitation in art. As a matter of fact, Mampuya himself was inspired by Picasso’s work to rebel against the academic conventions in Congolese art and to found the movement ‘Librisme et Synergie’. Picasso, in its turn, found inspiration in African art to renew western art history. Apparently, the waves of imitation continue to and fro… But nevertheless contemporary artists in Africa often hear that they nothing but imitating the movements and techniques in western contemporary art.
The imagery and the development of the video alludes to this western imagination of Africa as the ‘shadow’ of Europe. It also evokes associations with the persistent idea of the black continent as being ‘the heart of darkness’, still needing to be ‘enlighted’. Or else: a ‘terra nulla’, a white sheet of paper where everything is yet to begin.
Immeuble is a video installation that brings a building – normally perceived as a static and immobile thing – into movement, by introducing contemporary dancers in its empty, uncanny spaces.
The video installation combines and confronts images filmed during an improvisation performance by European dancers in a big building in Brussels, with the images of a similar performance organised with African dancers in a similar building in Kinshasa.
The videowork witnesses to the ephemeral passage of bodies in buildings, while at the same time challenging the building where it is shown. Intended to be projected directly on architectural elements of the exhibition space – such as a staircase, a window or a wall –, the work unites different buildings, spaces and continents in a puzzling visual experience.
The short film Rendez-les moi (Give me back my black dolls) which I made in 2013 during an IFAA-residency at Nijmegen, points to an interpretation of Limbé as an expression of a longing for a supressed African cultural heritage but which nevertheless can be found extensively in divers museums.
Rendez-les moi is a film which might be called a “visual poem”, using the technique of « caméra-stylo » or « camera pen » described by Astruc as a form in which and through which an artist is able to express his thoughts, tearing loose from the image for the image, of the immediate anecdote. In “Rendez-les-moi”, however, the camera is strongly guided by another poem: Léon Gontran Damas’ Limbé (Borders) as if Damas too was holding the pen.
His black dolls are being “prostituted” by the museum. Indeed, the artefacts function as “wenches” in the public space of the museum: undressed from their ritual costumes and put behind vitrines, they satisfy a western self-image as historically and racially superior. Detached from their context, they make their absent creators look foolish. Exhibited as commodities, they suggest an Africa totally at western disposal. Eagerly constructed as static and primitive, they become negative symbols of western historical progression. Invented as the remote and the past, they reinforce the west’s image as developed. Looted, traded and domesticated in time, they become the relics of a western past. Referred to as a variation of a western past existing in the present, they make Africa into Europe’s eternal museum. Ethnologized, they are ‘othered’ as remote and museified, they are historicized as past. Put at these distances in time as well as in space – making the distant into the past – they define the “Self” as measure, while making from Protagoras’ Homo Mensura doctrine Europa mensura. Categorized, they are constructed as primitive; assimilated, they are conceived of as barbarous and imagined as exotic.
Le Tervuren invisible is a critical interview with Francis Mampuya. This interview was done in Belgium, while Mampuya was here for a solo-exhibition in the framework of the Belgo-Congolese cultural project Yambi.
This video being made about one year after our stay in Congo, it not only takes a distance in time and space, but also a reflective and critical distance towards the other works of ôtre k’ ôtre.
In a reflection on the role of Belgian’s Royal Museum of Middle Africa, also called the Museum of Tervuren, Mampuya talks about its colonial role in the past and its current, more invisble but not less powerful role.
Moreover Tervuren becomes a metaphor for ‘white’ projects that, under the cloack of ‘cultural exchange’, aim at archiving and observing African culture.