Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga: Fragile Responsibility
From May 10 to June 16, 2018, October Gallery, London will present Fragile Responsibility, an exhibition of recent works by contemporary Congolese artist Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga. In this new series, the artist is focused specifically on the economy of porcelain in the Congo, which was used as currency in the trading of slaves during the Colonial era.
Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1991, Ilunga studied painting at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Kinshasa. While the strict, almost 19th-century style of formal figuration that has been taught at the Académie since its colonial-era founding allowed the artist to develop sophisticated painterly skills, ultimately, he found its program conceptually stifling, and abandoned his studies in 2011. Though there was little in place supporting that decision, he quickly aligned himself with other artists to establish M’Pongo, a group studio where a diverse set of young artists shared ideas and exhibited together to generate their own vibrant scene, which tapped into the high-energy creativity of contemporary Kinshasa.
Ilunga draws from the structural complexity of his hometown and revisits the traditional culture of the Mangbetu people. Referencing different forms of advertising and photography as well as traditional aesthetics, his paintings are an amalgam of complementary pop cultural forms, including music, fashion and dance. They offer an intelligent approach to popular culture by exposing the anxieties and joys of his contemporaries.
In his work, Ilunga explores the seismic shifts in the economic, political and social identity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that have taken place since colonialism. Increasingly globalised, yet still devoutly Christian, much of the country completely rejects its multi-ethnic indigenous heritage. The artist’s own mother, a modern woman who supported and raised her large family alone, didn’t want him to undertake a research trip to visit people from her own ethnic grouping, considering them pagan, backward and even dangerous. It is this loss of their traditional cultures that his listless figures seem to mourn, their bright fabrics hanging limply from their bodies, their hands clutching ritual objects whose functions seem less and less apparent.
Today, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the world’s largest exporter of coltan, a raw material used in computer chips and mobile phones, and we see this ubiquitous marker of global modernity creeping across their skins. The monumental quality of the works makes the figures both heroic and elegiac. Yet, even as the Congolese fabrics painted as European drapery recount the developing story of the Democratic Republic of the Congo of today, the inter-dimensional ambiguity, between solidity and flatness, suggests an underlying anguish and emptiness.
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