Guess who’s back? Back again … I am alive and kicking and I have yet another remarkable exhibition for you. Firstly, I want to take this time to just say a quick thank you to those of you who routinely visit this small space I’ve created and especially to my ever brilliant partner for his continuous support; also, to a mutual follower on Instagram, thank you for your words of encouragement. That aside, as some of you might have noticed, I tend to frequent October Gallery a lot and this is simply because they are one of my best-loved galleries for contemporary African Art. So, let’s start off with a brief introduction about this gifted artist before diving straight into his splendid pieces.
As the title of this post indicates, the artist I’m talking about here is Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga. If this is a new name for you, then be sure to remember it. Kamuanga Ilunga was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and went on to study painting at a prestigious academy in Kinasha, to which he ended up leaving due to the restraining nature of the program (as mentioned in October Gallery’s press release). Fragile Responsibility is Kamuanga Ilunga’s second exhibition with October Gallery since 2016 and this project initiates a conversation about the brutal history of his home, DRC, due to the cruelness of colonialism. He deals with the complexities of this history in the simplest of ways, avoiding the use of shock tactics – a skill that I commend him for.
In this new and moving project, Kamuanga Ilunga examines the consequences of colonialism in the DRC and how this shaped the political, social and economic environment; he explores how indigenous beliefs are abandoned and, more often, demonised and this is not an isolated issue in the DRC. This conversation can be extended across the African continent particularly my country of birth Nigeria, where there is still a significant amount of (latent) friction yet to be addressed. As Kamuanga Ilunga mentions in his interviews, in order for the present to be understood we must go through the past – that is, its history. It should be a common understanding that history – especially one that hasn’t been properly reckoned with – shapes the present and future no matter how far back it may be, and this applies to the history of colonialism and imperialism; a topic that is often a difficult conversation to have honestly without the romanticisation of the ‘civilisation’ that was brought to the ‘savages’ of Africa.
However, romanticise this history is one thing that Kamuanga Ilunga does not do. In conversation with Gerard Houghton, he expands further on the purpose of his style of painting and the common theme and objects that are found throughout the entire project. Upon arrival, you are met by vibrant primary and secondary colours that sit on a bland grey backdrop and this is intentionally done to illustrate the past of the DRC leading to Kamuanga Ilunga posing the question: ‘To what extent is a country whole if the past is grey and only the present is in colour?’ I understand the perspective he takes with the way he plays about with colours, but I hold the opinion that it may be more appropriate the other way round; but then, a good sign of a great piece of work is a variety of differences in opinion.
Kamuanga Ilunga is particularly interested in the Toby Jugs (inserted in Fragile 1) and porcelain objects that were used by Portuguese merchants to obtain the backing of Kings and other notable figures in the DRC, in order to sell humans into chattel slavery. The ignorance of these notable figures led them to believe the lies sold by the Portuguese merchants about the ‘power’ of the objects. Looking closely at the skin of the figures drawn, you’ll find circuits flowing through the entire body; these circuits signify the ongoing exploitation of minerals in the DRC, i.e. coltan, which is used in the technology we all use today.
There is a history being taught through Kamuanga Ilunga’s artwork; a conversation being prompted and stifled voices being heard.
I’ve written this post with only a couple of weeks left till the exhibition ends – 16th of June 2018 – but, if you’re able to, I would highly recommend you to drop by at October Gallery and view more of Kamuanga Ilunga’s pieces for yourself.
Address: October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3AL.
Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday 12:30 – 5:30 pm.
Nearest tubes: Holborn/Russell Square