Congolese artist Aimé Mpane, born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, seeks to unpack the legacy of colonialism and racism in his country. Mpane confronts the intertwined histories of Belgium and the Royal Museum for Central Africa, originally built by King Leopold II’s, as a personal showcase of Belgium’s colonization of the Congo.
120 years later, the museum’s focus has shifted from the degradation the Congolese people faced under Belgian rule—including a human zoo installed during the 1897 International Exposition—to an anthropological celebration as well as a space for contemporary African art. After renovation and construction, an $84 million facelift, it has changed its name to AfricaMuseum.
In this exhibition, Mpane creates portraits of his local community using plywood carved with an adze and painted in vibrant hues, the artist’s process is imbued with a sense of ritual. The splintering plywood and carved negative spaces cast shadows against the wall, creating dramatic effects on the walls, and ghostly, sometimes sinister forms of colonialism; in others, the shadows enhance the individuals being depicted.
Mpane’s work is a vehicle for exposing a greater transparency within a society of corruption and atrocity. Belgium’s new AfricanMuseum features Mpane’s large scale sculpture, New Breath, depicting a human rising from the roots of the earth. This is in stark contrast to Leopold II’s museum, in which only white men were depicted as heroes and saviors. Mpane reminds us of the truth of our own demons so that history never repeats itself.
Aimé Mpane’s work appears in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum in NYC, the National Museum of France, and the Smithsonian Institution, to mention a few.
Bernice Steinbaum, Director