The Fondation Cartier pour l’art Contemporain (The Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art), one of the French capital’s most spectacular art centers and exhibition spaces, presents Beauté Congo—1926-2015—Congo Kitoko through January 10, 2016. The exhibit honors the creative spirit of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It focuses predominantly on painting, but also includes sculpture, photography, comics, and music created in this vibrant Central African nation by several generations of artists.
Three hundred and fifty works from 41 diverse creators explore numerous facets of modern Congolese art, often paying tribute to political figures, historical moments and social events. Among the artists included in the exhibition, we find particularly interesting JP Mika, who demonstrates a fondness for vibrant colors; Mode Muntu, whose earliest works date back to 1954; and Cheri Samba, an esteemed contemporary African artist. “My paintings, like those of my colleagues, address issues such as education, morality, politics and everyday life,” says artist Cheri Samba. “I favor a direct style to convey messages that speak to everyone,” she concludes.
Jean Depara, Untitled, c. 1955-1965.
The exhibit places the birth of modern Congolese painting in the 1920s as a point of departure. At the time, the Congo was still a Belgian colony and Georges Thiry, a colonial administrator, grew fond of the traditional huts decorated by Albert and Antoinette Lubaki alongside other artists such as Djilatendo. Thiry encouraged them to create art on paper and committed himself to delivering supplies. The Lubakis opted for materials found in nature, like animal pelts and leaves, while Djilatendo veered towards geometric patterns.
The exhibition goes on to document the birth of the 1940s Atelier du Hangar, —an art workshop founded by French painter Pierre Romain-Desfossés, where artists like Mwenze Kibwanga and Pilipili Mulongoy created artwork in their personal, distinct styles. The exhibit elucidates the rise of photography in the 1950s and 60s, with imaginative images inspired by the energetic nightlife in the country’s capital, Kinshasa, one of the world’s most populated cities. The display enters the new millennium, featuring unconventional artists like Pathy Tshindele and Kura Shomali, who refused the boundaries established by Kinshasa’s Académie des Beaux-Arts.
1. Ilunga, Untitled, c. 1950.
2. Monsengo Shula, Ata Ndele Mokili Ekobaluka (Tôt ou tard le monde changera), 2014.
3. Pilipili Mulongoy.
Rumba, jazz, soul, rap and dance music can be heard throughout this emblematic show, demonstrating the important role music has and continues to play in Congolese society. The foundation’s Nomadic Nights program will host events showcasing Congolese contemporary music and dance.
Chief Curator Andre Magnin has special ties to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he has been traveling since the 1980s. He has established important relationships with the country’s leading artists and has shared their work with the world. “I was struck by the freedom, variety, humor and beauty of the paintings that were passing before my eyes. In Africa, only the Congo could inspire such exciting sensuality and radicalism,” he adds.
The Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain was created in 1984 by Alain Dominique Perrin, then-president of the esteemed French jewelry firm. The foundation, located at 261 Boulevard Raspail in Paris’ 14th arrondissement, is devoted to promoting contemporary art. The organization has shown continued commitment to African contemporary art, which is still not vastly represented in Western museums. Previous exhibits include solo shows Bodys Isek Kingelez, in 1999 and J’aime Chéri Samba, in 2004, as well as collective exhibitions Un Art Populaire in 2001 and Histoires de voir, Show and Tell, in 2012. ■