RE/STORE, 2020

Jean Pierre Müller and Aimé Mpane


16 veils for the Grand Rotunda,

Permanent installation

Africa Museum, Tervuren, BE

The statues in the niches are part of the protected heritage building and may not be removed. The museum invited Congolese artist Aimé Mpane to create a project that would serve as a counterweight. The artist designed two statues facing each other, one alluding to the horrors of the past (Lusinga’s skull), the other to the promise of the future (New breath, or Burgeoning Congo).


Mpane then worked in tandem with Belgian artist Jean Pierre Müller to create RE/STORE, a set of sixteen semi-transparent veils superimposed on the existing statues to offer a new interpretation.


Narrators of a complex and contradictory world, Aimé Mpane and Jean Pierre Müller are two contemporary artists, one Congolese, the other Belgian. Their work attempts to sidestep the pitfalls of cynicism while interrogating the persistance of History. With RE/STORE, they explore the shared heritage of the Belgo-Congolese tragedy together.


RE/STORE does not seek to erase the past (as when monuments are removed), but offers a new reading of it. Placing images printed on semi-transparent veils over the existing statues challenges their historical and ideological message, and summons different visions of a past that remains very present. RE/STORE strives to be both an unveiling and a restoration.

Congrès Tricatel Programme

Arsène Matton (1873-1953),
La Belgique apportant la civilisation au Congo (Belgium brings civilisation to Congo)
Gilt bronze, 1922

Aimé Mpane (with Jean Pierre Müller)

Civilisation RE/STOREd

Digital and silkscreen print on fabric, 2020

Colonialism is based on the premise that conquered peoples are subhuman and backward on all levels - cultural, religious, technological, and institutional.

In freeing themselves from the depths to which they had been consigned, the wealth and diversity of precolonial Congolese civilisations slash the fetish-body.

Arsène Matton (1873-1953),
La Belgique apportant la sécurité au Congo (Belgium brings security to Congo)
Gilt bronze, 1921

Jean Pierre Müller

Security RE/STOREd

Digital and silkscreen print on fabric, 2020

A Belgian paracommando in Stanleyville in 1964, as the Simba rebels were being hunted down (based on an illustration by C. McNab).

The formal recognition of Congo's independence in 1960 did little to end foreign intervention.

Arsène Matton (1873-1953),
La Belgique apportant le bien-être au Congo (Belgium brings well-being to Congo)
Gilt bronze, 1922

Aimé Mpane (with Jean Pierre Müller)

Well-being RE/STOREd

Digital and silkscreen print on fabric, 2020

The well-being that Belgium claimed to bring was based on Catholicism. Kongo kings embraced the Catholic faith from the end of the 15th century. Congolese artists of the time fashioned this peculiar crucifix-handled spoon.

Here, it cradles a skull from which new hopes emerge.

Arsène Matton (1873-1953),
L'esclavage (Slavery)
Gilt bronze, 1929

Jean Pierre Müller

Le viol (The rape)

Digital and silkscreen print on fabric, 2020

Based on Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna (1529-1608), a Flemish sculptor who worked in Italy. Rape has always been used as a weapon to conquer and dominate, and Congo is no exception.

Colonial propaganda cast the lascivious, deceitful Arab in the role of rapist and slaver.


Arthur Dupagne (1895-1961)
Le travailleur (The worker)

Plaster and paint, date unknown.




Aimé Mpane,

Métamorphose (Metamorphosis)

Digital print on fabric, 2020






While the generous, sensual body of the African woman seemed destined to serve the coloniser’s whims, the Congolese man was destined to devote his body’s near-perfect muscles to toiling relentlessly for the benefit of his white master.

Arthur Dupagne (1895-1961)
La lutte avec le serpent (Combat with snake)
Plaster and paint, date unknown



Jean Pierre Müller,

La lutte avec le serpent (Combat with snake)

Digital print on fabric, 2020


The image of the rubber snake with the king’s head was inspired by a 1906 cartoon by Linley Sambourne. Atrocities committed in the Congo Free State triggered an unprecedented international protest campaign.


Ernest Wynants (1878-1964)

L'Afrique féconde (Fertile Africa)

Gilt bronze, 1924


Jean Pierre Müller,

Rubber Man

Digital and silkscreen print on fabric, 2020














Here, the original mascot of a major tyre manufacturer is positioned over the sculpture of Fertile Africa. The boom in rubber trade that followed the invention of the pneumatic tyre in 1888 led to a ‘rubber fever’ that claimed countless victims in Congo.

Arthur Dupagne (1895-1961)

Le guerrier (The Warrior)

Plaster and paint, date unknown




Aimé Mpane,
Bananes à jeter (Throwaway bananas)

Digital print on fabric, 2020




The muscular and highly sexed African male of European fantasy is emasculated in Dupagne’s sculpture. Aimé Mpane calls for these stereotypes to be discarded once and for all.


Arthur Dupagne (1895-1961)

Homme à sa toilette (Man at his toilette)

Plaster and paint, date unknown


Jean Pierre Müller,

Achilles

Digital print on fabric, 2020





Arthur Dupagne’s Man at his toilette recalls Charles Gumery’s (1827-1871) sculpture of a wounded Achilles. Feminisation and mortal weakness: the black man’s fearsome body is exorcised twice over.





Godefroid Devreese (1861-1941)

Justice

Gilt bronze, 1922 - 1923




Aimé Mpane,

Tree of Justice

Digital print on fabric, 2020


The emblem of Nzinga Mvemba (Afonso I, 1456-1543), the second Christian monarch of the Kongo kingdom, hangs over this symbol of the Belgian legal system, depicted as Justice holding a set of scales and a sword. Early contacts with Portugal seemed ripe with promise, but things soon took a turn for the worse with the intensification of the slave trade.




Oscar Jespers (1887-1970)

Négresse à l’amphore

(Negress with amphora)

Gilt bronze, 1924

Aimé Mpane

Bope Pelenge

Digital print on fabric, 2020


In keeping with the aesthetic of the period, Oscar Jespers used simple shapes to depict the African woman. The statue of the Kuba king Bope, reproduced here by Aimé Mpane, demands respect and dignity. The balls may bring to mind football players – the only African kings still able to command respect today.


Arthur Dupagne (1895-1961)

Saison sèche (Dry season)

Plaster and paint, date unknown


Jean Pierre Müller

Drapé

Digital and silkscreen print on fabric, 2020






Catholic missions were one of the main pillars of the colonial enterprise. Representing God and Belgium, the missionary personified the occupier’s spiritual and racial superiority.




Arthur Dupagne (1895-1961)

Le pagayeur (The Rower)

Plaster and paint, date unknown



Aimé Mpane

Lukasa memory board

Digital print on fabric, 2020

The ideal Congolese is embodied by Arthur Dupagne’s rower: sturdy, loyal, devoid of intelligence.

Yet Luba chiefs possessed the lukasa, a topographic and chronological archival device which

exemplifies the complex technology they used to recall important details of their history.

Three lukasa are on display in the Languages and Music gallery of the Africa Museum,

a fourth one in the Long History gallery.




Arthur Dupagne (1895-1961)

Danseuse au tamtam

Plaster and paint, 1929

Jean Pierre Müller,

Joueuse de lyre (Cléo de Mérode)

(The lyre player)

Digital print on fabric, 2020




Leopold II was enamoured of famed dancer and glamour icon Cléo de Mérode. The king hoped to make the last of his mistresses, Blanche Delacroix, ‘Baroness Vaughan’, his heiress. The naked African dancer sculpted by Dupagne looks like the promise of a reward in nature to the white male coloniser.


Frans Huygelen (1878-1940)

L’Expansion belge

(The expansion of Belgium)

Gilt bronze, 1914-1918



Jean Pierre Müller,

La main lancée (The thrown hand)

Digital print on fabric. 2020


Silvius Brabo cut off the hand of Antigoon the giant and threw it into the river. The legend

inspired Jef Lambeaux to create this sculpture - now the symbol of the city of Antwerp -

in 1887, at a time when a forced labour regime was established in Congo.

The terror-based system was vividly illustrated by the scandal of severed hands.


Paul Du Bois (1859-1935)

La Charité (Charity)

Gilt bronze, 1922-1923

Aimé Mpane

Charity (begins at home)

Digital print on fabric, 2020

Charity begins at home. The man of the cloth stood atop the colonial pyramid. He controlled souls, directed education, dictated morals, and condemned nudity, sorcery, and rites. All he needed to carry the Word of God far and wide was to let himself be carried.


All photos ©Mária-Krisztina Nagy