A new Cartier exhibition explores 90 years of modern and contemporary art in the Congo

Pride of place


By Renyi Lim

A new Cartier exhibition explores 90 years of modern and contemporary art in the Congo

The brief

Although the troubled history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has seen it pass from its status as a Belgian colony to independence under Patrice Lumumba, only to be wracked by multiple civil wars, the region’s art scene – one of extraordinary diversity and energy – is thoroughly deserving of recognition. The Beauté Congo – 1926-2015 – Congo Kitoko exhibition examines a century of the country’s artistic production, beginning with the emergence of modern painting in the Congo during the 1920s and reflecting upon its new generation of artists in the 2000s.

The curator 

André Magnin, the exhibition’s chief curator, first arrived in Kinshasa in 1987 and was instantly fascinated by what he saw as a new cultural lifestyle: “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.”


The artists

A detailed introduction to Congolese art will acquaint audiences with an expansive range of artists, including Djilatendo, who painted some of the first known Congolese works on paper; ‘popular painters’ of the 1970s like Chéri Samba, Chéri Chérin, and Moke; and founding painters of the contemporary scene, Pathy Tshindele and Kura Shomali. Visitors are encouraged to listen to songs by the ‘sorcerer of the guitar’ Franco Luambo, the sapeur Papa Wemba, and the soulful Mbilia Bel, while Bodys Isek Kingelez and Rigobert Nimi’s intricate architectural models will have viewers raising issues of urban social cohesion and questioning art’s potential for self-renewal.


Why you’ll love it

Beauté Congo – 1926-2015 – Congo Kitoko shares an unseen side of the country that is often overlooked against a backdrop of conflict and political instability. Besides painting, the exhibition also covers music, sculpture, photography, and comics, ensuring that audiences experience a multi-dimensional appreciation of Congolese artistic accomplishments. Whether it’s a newfound love of la musique moderne – the country’s much-favoured rumba tunes – or a taste of the extravagant nightlife of Kinshasa in the 1950s and 1960s.  


The Beauté Congo – 1926-2015 – Congo Kitoko exhibition is presented from July 11 to November 15, 2015 at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris. The exhibition is open everyday except Monday, from 11 am to 8 pm. Open Tuesday evenings until 10 pm. 

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