Democratic Republic of Congo: The Giant is Awake

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Artists from the Democratic Republic of Congo

Congolese Art enters the ring
On 30th October 1974, in Kinshasa - then Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo - a match was fought, one of the most iconic moments in boxing history, between the world champion George Foreman, a ‘white-black-man’ and Muhammad Ali, the boxer loved by all Africa.

Nzeza Lumbu (Tresor Cherin) - African dandy in progress (2014)

In Kinshasa, Foreman, already little known, immediately offended the Africans when he descended the aircraft steps with a German Shepherd, a dog used by the Belgians to police the indigenous population during their colonial rule of the Congo.

Henri Kalama Akulez - A singing tomorrow (2014)

Philippe Mwoyasang Isongo - Violence against Co... (2014)

Ali, in contrast, was loved because he lived among the people, as if he were one of them. So when Ali knocked Foreman to the mat in the eighth round, the party in Kinshasa was a parade of collective African pride, revenge and liberation.

Wess Tataa Itshiri - Journey into a dream (2014)

Ulrich Mbelo-Mandiangu - Social vision (2014)


The history of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa to distinguish it from Congo-Brazzaville), however, has been a long succession of hopes and torments. And it has remained unstable even in recent times, mainly because of its strategic location as an immense territory linking West, Central and Southern Africa.

Raoul Monsengo - Congo graveyard of plastic arts creators (2014)


It is the third African country by population (after Nigeria and Ethiopia) and by size (after Sudan and Algeria), rich in natural, forestal and mineral resources. It is home to the second largest rainforest in the world and has ample fertile land and water resources. Historically, mining and oil extraction have been of fundamental importance for export earnings and contribution to GDP. The Congo is the third largest producer of diamonds by volume (not by value, because the majority of its production is destined for industrial use rather than the jewellery trade). And it has the richest reserves of coltan: grey gold, a combination of columbite and tantalite, an essential component of electronics that optimizes the use of electricity in mobile phones and computer chips, in applications in the aerospace industry and in fibre optics.

Guycha Tshidibi Tshibaka - Contrast (2014)

Deborah Ngiesi -Violence against women in Eastern DRC (2014)


Yet this wealth, so important for the hi-tech future of the world, is struggling to be converted into wellbeing and opportunity for the Congolese people. The contrasts are particularly visible in Kinshasa itself, the capital founded in 1881 as Leopoldville, in honour of Leopold II of Belgium, by the British explorer HM Stanley, famous for the phrase - Dr. Livingstone, I presume? - with which he greeted the British missionary upon finding him in the heart of Africa.

Houston Maludi Makananu - African market (2014)

Olivier Akunzi Nalumbo - Tango Ya Ko Seka (The time to smile) (2014)


Today Kinshasa, an African megalopolis of almost 12 million inhabitants, is a planet that reflects the conflicting realities of the country. From the four-lane roads, restaurants, hotels and nightclubs of the city centre to the slums home to the hundreds of thousands of people who arrive from every corner hoping to find their fortune. From the mud streets of the suburbs to the signals of the future launched by the solar-powered police robots that control the traffic in the congested capital and make video recordings of infringements.

Maxime Mabudi Woto - Dweki-Di-Mayaye (Cicadas’ swimming migration) (2014)


The young Congolese are aware that the global market of creativity, above all, is where they must try to carve out their place in the sun. This is the case for the fashion industry developing around Kinshasa Fashion Week, attended by many local designers, but also by foreign brands of Congolese origin. Congolese styling is considered to have a fresh creative potential that can lead to the foundation of an industry able to reach those growing African countries that will soon have a demand for fashion.

Guychel Mbon - The awakening of the African conscience (2014)

Chris Ilunga Mukunya - 21st century woman (2014)


Then there are the artists “numerous, ambitious, who express themselves through different artistic languages in spite of being mostly trained at the Academy of Fine Arts, needless to say the largest in Africa with 2,000 students and among the oldest of the Continent (it was founded by the Belgians in 1946)” writes Enrico Mascelloni in his introduction to this catalogue.

Bruno Sakou (Bruno’s) - My life (2014)

Joseph Nkenda Lulembe - The passion of Christ (2014)


The roots of Congolese art, however, go much deeper and have always interested the lives of the diverse populations in their everyday, widespread, aesthetic taste. The German anthropologist Leo Frobenius, for example, described the objects of art he saw in 1906 in the Congolese lands bordered by the Kasai and Sankuru rivers, in villages whose main streets were bordered with rows of palm trees and whose huts were masterpieces of weaving and carving. “There was not a man who did not carry sumptuous weapons of iron or copper, with inlaid hilts and damascened blades. Everywhere there were velvets and silken stuffs. Every cup, every pipe, every spoon was a piece of artistry, fully worthy of comparison with the creations of the Romantic style of Europe.”

Christian Mukenge-Lukunku - The Dream of Mikili (2014)

Eric Mabiala Ntedika (Mabted) - Coexistence (2014)

Our collection of 140 10x12cm works by contemporary Congolese artists demonstrates this ability to use different materials, sometimes repurposed, to create both works that reference traditional art and works that denounce. There are those who declare strong links with cartoons and with sign painting. Those who talk of the problems of daily life and those who express the flamboyant elegance of the Sapeurs.

Bienfait Bin Mwuelwa Lusumba - Why us (2014)

Rudy Nzongo Kumbu - Wolo (Gold) (2014)

Amid naive freshness and digital harshness, memories of colonialism and the uncertainties of democracy, Congolese art today enters the ring of the global market. In the knowledge that there is a city, a people, a nation, cheering it on.

Luciano Benetton

Marie Muendo Mvumbi - Thoughts of love (2014)

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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