The inaugural Young Congo Biennale will take place in the cosmopolitan city of Kinshasa and include projects from more than 40 artists, designers, architects, art historians, curators, art critics and other creators from five continents.
Kinshasa is the capital and largest city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Located on the south bank of the Congo River, in the Malebo basin, it faces the capital of the Republic of Congo, Brazzaville. Once a site of fishing and trading villages, Kinshasa is now a megalopolis known for its vibrant social atmosphere and rich arts and cultural landscape. With an estimated population of more than 15 million people, Kinshasa is the third most populous city in Africa after Cairo and Lagos, and is considered the largest French-speaking conurbation in the world, having surpassed Paris. Important to note however, is the that the DRC is still recovering from the damage caused by recent civil wars, rebellions and political and socio-economic instability.
The Young Congo Biennale evolved out of an annual exhibition focusing on young and emerging artists from Congo and the diaspora. In 2017 it was decided to reformat the event into a biennale in order to pursue a new curatorial approach, include a wider cross-section of contemporary art disciplines and engage a wider regional and international network of participants. The 2019 Young Congo Biennale will include painting, sculpture, photography, installation, film and video, performance, digital art and works that do not fall into a definable category.
The title of this first edition of the biennale is Transition, and is curated by visual artist Vitshois Mwilambwe Bondo, with a public spaces programme curated by architect and designer Nicolas-Patience Basabose.
The organisers explain that “Transition invites artists and thinkers to reflect on the general history of the DR Congo from the Berlin conference in 1885, when the country was privately owned by the Belgian King Leopold II, to the present day, and to reflect on its position and relations with the rest of the world.”
Transition will be presented in the city’s main art venues: Kin ArtStudio, Institut Francais, Centre Bilembo and Académie des Beaux-Arts, and multiple public spaces. Through participatory projects presented in public spaces that engage with the history and urban realities of the city, the biennale hopes to engage the wider public of Kinshasa.
Vitshois Mwilambwe is the director of the host organization, Kin ArtStudio, which is one of our 10 Regional Mobility Partners. Working from the ground up, this new biennale will connect emerging and established artists from the DRC with contemporaries from across the region and diaspora. Through its programme of talks, residencies and exhibitions, the Young Congo Biennale will facilitate new artistic networks on the content. Pro Helvetia Johannesburg will be supporting the presentation of work and the participation of artists and arts professionals from our Swiss and regional networks.
Swiss artist Mats Staub will present two of his ongoing projects 21 Memories of Growing Up and Death & Birth as special projects during the biennale. This follows on from Mats’ research residency in May 2018 in Lubumbashi and Kinshasa to gather local stories for inclusion in each project. 21 Memories of Growing Up will be presented in VR format at the biennale, following a very successful first presentation of the project in this format at WAZA Arts in Lubumbashi in May 2019. Death & Birth will take the form of a one-night workshop-presentation in a local residential context. Mats will attend the opening week of the biennale and host a talk about his work.
WAZA ART Aire d’oiseau Imaginaire
An exhibition by Agxon and DJ Spilulu
Regional Mobility Partner WAZA Art will present an immersive installation by Congolese artist Agxon in collaboration with DJ Spilulu titled Imaginary Bird Area (Aire d’oiseau Imaginaire). The body of work features a series of ominous bird figures made from driftwood that represent the threatening influence of powerful men in the Moba landscape of eastern Congo. This landscape, at first glance very peaceful, bears the burden of many past conflicts. The recent discovery of a coltan deposit threatens to revive exploitation and conflict in the area. Agxon is both a traditional chief and visual artist and this work expresses his individual artistic voice as well as that of his community. The installation includes a soundscape and video installation by Lushois Afrohouse producer and beatmaker DJ Spilulu created during a creative residency in Moba.
NJELELE ART STATION a movement, and gathering sound (working diagram)
A project by Thembinkosi Goniwe, Nolan Oswald Dennis and Dana Whabira
2019 a movement, and gathering sound (working diagram), is a collaborative composition that weaves together a history of sound, migration, space and agency. This work schematically traces the physical and spiritual infrastructure of interconnection which permeates the landscape across southern Africa (SADC).
The work emerges from a continuing research project centred on the psychic and spiritual dimension of railway infrastructure in the historical and ongoing production of a continental landscape and a regional imagination. Through an exploration of the mundane function of the railway line in defining and spreading urban planning typologies, networks of state power and geopolitics in the region; the project revisits the underside of the colonial enterprise where the meaning and function of these techno-political infrastructures can be understood otherwise. “We are reaching for a different reading of colonial infrastructure, one that privileges the ways in which African people subverted, manipulated, transfigured these infrastructures for an anti-colonial project of becoming together (in opposition of the colonial project of divide and rule),” the artists explain.
a movement, and gathering sound (working diagram) is an ongoing diagramming of the spiritual afterlife of the railway network as a network of musical and territorial imagination. The project participants write: “In defining the railways as a sonic network we pay attention to the way our people, our sounds, our cultures, our resources and our ideas move. And how this movement is also a movement of constantly redefining ourselves and expanding our ideas of who we mean when we say “us”. In this regard the railway has always been an ally in subverting barriers, boundaries and borders. In the history of anti-colonial struggle the railway is the site of activism, organization and resistance and an important space for producing Pan-African imaginaries.”
Critically, the railway cuts lines into and across the landscape. These are both lines of connection as well as separation. The breaks and the grooves of the railway line in the political landscape are rhythmically echoed in the Pan-African sounds of the musical landscape. The railway has always gathered sound alongside the bodies and resources it extracts from the landscape, forming connections between musical forms and traditions across the region, but also accelerating their distortion, disassembly and reengineering into new and dangerous Pan-African fighting songs.
KIN ARTSTUDIO Artist residency
Exchange between visual arts organisation in our Regional Arts Programme will see Tanzanian artist Amani Abeid, South African artists Phumulani Ntuli and Simphiwe Buthelezi and two Congolese artists participate in a one-month studio residency at Kin ArtStudio from 25 September to 25 October, culminating in the presentation of new work and artist talks during the biennale.
We also look forward to seeing the work of past and upcoming Pro Helvetia studio residency artists from Kinshasa at the biennale: Serge Diakota Mabilama will spend three months on residency in Switzerland in 2020. Hilary Balu, a 2019 studio residency recipient, was based at the Embassy of Foreign Artists in Geneva from April to June. Alexandre Kyungu Mwilambwe spent one month on residency at the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios in Johannesburg in the first quarter of 2019.