A Congo Chronicle: Patrice Lumumba in Urban Art

February 21–March 18, 2006

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A Congo Chronicle: Patrice Lumumba in Urban Art features approximately ninety examples of Congolese Urban art, or popular painting that portray the life and tragic death of Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the Congo after its independence from Belgium in 1960. The exhibition includes a series of nearly fifty paintings by Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu, an influential artist of the 1970s, and a number of recent works by other Congolese contemporary artists who emulated his style. Reflections of prevailing popular taste, these paintings demonstrate how memories of Lumumba were transformed into a powerful visual narrative of a cultural hero.

Urban art is traceable from early 1920's paintings depicting colonial "modern life," through 1940's and 1950's paintings assimilating African "modern life," to 1970's chronicles of social and political memory. The significance of the resultant African "social realism," an idealistic historic documentation, is its focus on recognizable themes such as social injustice, street violence, political arbitrariness, and gender and generational conflicts. Through them, the viewer gains insight into the popular issues of the era.

These popular depictions of Patrice Lumumba exemplify the Congolese tradition of venerating mythic or cultural heroes. Just as classical African sculptures portrayed cultural innovators, urban art helped transform Lumumba into a powerful symbol. He embodies the dream of national unity, democracy, and independence, despite being largely omitted from official Congolese histories of the Mobutu era. With the recent upheavals in the political leadership and social fabric, A Congo Chronicle is a timely examination of how Lumumba became not only a Congolese hero, but also an African and African-American hero.

Curator Bogumil Jewsiewicki of Laval University, Quebec wrote the accompanying full-color catalogue. Essays by contributing scholars Jean Omasombo Tshonda, Nyunda ya Rubango, Dibwe dia Mwembu, and Mary Nooter Roberts and Allen F. Roberts discuss popular urban art, the life of Patrice Lumumba, Tshibumba's series of Lumumba paintings, the Congolese memory of Lumumba, and Congolese cultural heroes.

This exhibition was organized by the Museum for African Art in New York and guest curated by Bogumil Jewsiewicki. The traveling exhibition is made possible through a grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Support for the creation of the exhibition was received from the LEF Foundation and the Lannan Foundation. The showing at the Wallach Art Gallery has been made possible, in part, by an endowment established by Miriam and Ira D. Wallach.