Artist Dossier: Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga
Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga studied painting in the capital city, Kinshasa. His paintings bear similarities to 19th-century neo-classical art in their classical poses and convoluted, realistically rendered draperies. (His style is a testament to his training in the 19th-century style of formal figuration taught at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Kinshasa, where Ilunga enrolled before abandoning his studies in 2011.) However, all similarities end there. Ilunga’s paintings can best be described as plain grey canvases populated with hybrid, “sci-fi” bodies; ideographic symbols; bright swathes of “African” print fabrics; brightly coloured slippers; and ritual objects.
Working primarily in oil and acrylic from photographs of scenes posed with live models, Ilunga’s work explores the history of globalisation and colonialism and their effect on the economic, political, and social identity of present-day DRC. Like most African countries, the DRC, in favour of globalisation and European religious practices (a relic from the colonial era), is eschewing its multi-ethnic indigenous heritage and traditional culture. This tradition and “African consciousness” is what the artist strives to preserve in his art as he bemoans their loss. He rejected a European-style academic art study and subsequently established M’Pongo, a group studio where a diverse set of young artists share ideas and exhibit together to generate their own vibrant scene. These moves by Ilunga lend material richness to his work, creating a sort of synthesis between cultures, and between traditional and contemporary forms.
Ilunga’s influences range from the late Congolese modernist Kamba Luesa to Leonardo da Vinci. But a key inspiration is Kinshasa, where he is building a cultural foundation. The city is “always contradictory, fragile but brutal—which is what I try to capture in my painting in a formal way. I’m inspired to see different worlds coming together; people living in chaos but partying. It’s like the beauty of a painting that at the same time represents such a harsh reality.”
The artist’s first body of work, ‘Mangbetu,’ was informed by a study of the Mangbetu people, an ethnic group of warrior extraction in the DRC, whose culture is being threatened by a desire to modernise. In these series, the artist depicts the figures in sombre, elegiac poses—giving the viewer a sense of domesticity—draped in vibrant Congolese fabric, some holding household tools or weapons. The figures are also shown with elongated heads adorned with elaborate hairdos and headdresses. The depiction of elongated heads is a reference to the Limpobo practice, found among the Mangbetu people, of wrapping infant heads tightly with a cloth. The darkened skin of his figures is embellished with lines and shapes similar to those found in circuit boards and microchips used in electronic devices. They serve as a reference to the mining activities going on in the DRC for coltan, a dull, black metallic ore used in the production of tantalum capacitors in many electronic devices. As one of the world’s biggest producers of coltan, the DRC has suffered human and environmental costs due to increasing exploitation in the mining of this mineral. It is this exploitation, of the people and the land, which Ilunga references in his depiction of human skin.
Ilunga debuted at auction in Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary African Art sale in 2017, with Elongated Head, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 120cm sold for £11,250 and at Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary African Art sale in March 2018 with a comparable painting, Mangbetu, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 200cm, from his first series, ‘Mangbetu,’ sold for $91,708. So far, his highest-selling work is Palm, 2016, oil and acrylic on canvas, 150 x 150cm, sold for $106,212 at Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary African Art sale in April 2019.
Other high-selling works include the previously mentioned Mangbetu; Untitled (2014), achieved $22,252 at Christie’s Handpicked: 50 Works Selected by the Saatchi Gallery auction in June 2018; and Solitude, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 120cm sold for $16,930 at Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary African Art sale in March 2018.
While Ilunga had been active on the local African scene, notably in the Dak’Art Biennale in 2014, his international debut was at Pangaea II: New Art from Africa and Latin America, a 2015 group show organised by Saatchi Gallery. This was followed by participation in international art fairs like Summa Contemporary (Madrid, Spain) and 1-54 Contemporary Art Fair (London, England) in September and October respectively of the same year, as well as the Armory Show (New York, US) in 2016. He has also participated in group exhibitions African-Print Fashion Now! at the Fowler Museum, UCLA; I Want! I Want! Art and Technology at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (Birmingham, UK), and in the 249th Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts (London, UK). The artist’s latest series of work titled ‘Fragile Responsibility,’ displayed at the October Gallery (London, UK) in 2018, explore themes of transcultural identity.
Art Prices: “The Biography of Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga,” retrieved on March 22, 2019, from https://www.artprice.com
Biography: “Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga,” retrieved on March 11, 2019, from https://www.artsy.net/
Biography: “The Biography of Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga,” retrieved on March 22, 2019, from http://www.octobergallery.co.uk/artists/kamuanga/index.shtml
Biography: “Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga,” retrieved on March 22, 2019, from
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Biography: “Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga’s Vibrant Reconstruction of History,” retrieved on April 18, 2019, from https://www.omenkaonline.com/eddy-kamuangas-ilungas-vibrant-reconstruction-of-history/
April 16, 2021
April 16, 2021