One thing I love about Paris is the endlessness of it- there is always something to see, do, be, go. It is a city brimming with art and inspiration so much so, one can never be bored in Paris. On a recent jaunt my sister and I were lucky enough to catch the Beauté Congo Exhibition presented by Fondation Cartiér; Congo Kitoko 1926-2015, and to say this exhibition is sublime is a great understatement. It is a history lesson.
Congo is a land before our time, before the western invasion from the “colonial masters” aka thieves, and civil wars, it was a land rich in culture, resources, beauty, life etc. it hosted the good and great amongst us; James Brown, Mohamed Ali, were just a few, and Beauté Congo shows the life that time forgot, that some never even knew existed, and the life there is today.
In his powerful photography, Kiripi Katembo shoots life’s reflection in water, a reality of life captured in colour in the most unusual way. In a sense it gives you more of a reality, it is not stylised, rather it catches one unawares and forces you to look deeper into the picture. The stillness brings to life the details… Katembo died in August this year, of cerebral Malaria, but his works have a resounding effect.
I fell in love with the surrealism of Katembo’s work, the rawness of daily life and the truth in the reflection. Even if we don’t see faces there is power in the picture, the environment and the weight of the emotion.
From the old masters to the new generation, the works were loaded with messages, of peace, war, love, loss, pain…it resonates with you. Moke, of the new school, celebrates everyday life with vibrant paintings, traffic, market days, night clubs, influences of the west apparent but never negates the culture. There is energy in his paintings that speaks to you and you wish you were transported into that world.
JP Mika, showed some of my favourite works with such powerful use of juxtaposition. His paintings portrayed Sapeurs, modern influence with traditional references, both themes prominent without overpowering the other. The Sapeurs are a group of some of the most well dressed men in the world, and their influence has been captured on the runways, in ads, music videos. Its the perfect juxtaposition with everyday reality and western imposition, alongside a reversed idea of civilisation. The colours are bright, the subject stylish and sometimes, comical with mocking undertones.
There were other black and white photographs, women to the nines, dapper dressed men, Mohammed Ali, attitude, cool, fun, life. This is the Congo I always want to remember.
Without question, for me, the most powerful painting in the exhibition is by Cheri Samba depicting his son dressed as a child soldier, Little Kadogo carrying a weapon with the caption; I am for peace that is why I like weapons. Samba’s paintings are political and captivating, they have a knack for speaking directly to the audience whilst addressing broader issues that have plagued the country. It is fiercely challenging to world leaders.
Not much is known of Congo, except war and conflict, political strife, poverty, but beneath that is a land of resilient and industrious people. Katembo talks about how he witnessed women traders of the Grand Marché, the biggest market in Kinshasa, everyday, keeping things moving despite the world falling about their ears. There are stories to tell and if you find yourself in Paris between now and January, go and see those stories, listen to the music and get a glimpse of a land that time forgot. It will be the most important thing you see all year. I promise you.
Beauté Congo 1926-2015 extended until January 10 2016. More info on Fondation Cartier