The possibility of understanding, of cultures, societies, communities and places, rises from the framework and perspective from which we begin. The possibility of recontextualisation or reinterpretation is made wholly more exciting when this reconsideration can be guided by first-hand, self-reflexive or introspective work – whether that comes from an individual or communal interaction. Darkness Rising is such an opportunity – to receive and engage with a collection of work by artists from the Congo, whose work investigates and explores different aspects of their experiences or their relation to the country.
Many of us receive information about the happenings in The Congo through the media. The information is received with the understanding that there is implied bias that often misses nuance and personal impact. The artists – residents of the country or of Congolese backgrounds, gathered in this exhibition – add shape and perspective to the magnitude of the context and lived experiences of the country. Darkness Rising, as a curated group exhibition, along with each individual artists voice, opens the opportunity for different narratives to be heard and to alter current understandings and assumptions.
With Darkness Rising, a conversation takes place, taking on the form of a group exhibition inspired by the tricky balance between the ongoing crises in the Congo and its different aspects of cultural production and expression. Across the work exhibited there is a celebration of creation that illustrates aspects that make up the unique heritage and distinctive aesthetics of the Congo. With work by various artists across different mediums, contemporary creative expressions of the region are shown through distinctive styles, wide ranges of colours, as well as themes passed down from generation to generation that people of the community consider as culturally definitive traits.
The work of Ley Mboramwe and Thonton Kabeya creates a conversation about the journeys they have embarked on, expressed through their work and the dynamics they illustrate through the play of abstraction in figurative images. Ley Mboramwe’s vigorous burst of lines and colours on canvas activate a kind of energy within the room that calls for attention, His participation in group exhibitions, art fairs and solo exhibitions has traced his creative trajectory as he grappled with his memories and experiences of the Congo, his childhood in the country and the landscape he has had to leave behind. He uses his work to reflect on and remain aware of current social and political circumstances, while not forgetting the socio-political influences of the past. Using what’s happening around him as stimuli, Mboramwe creates a sense of emotional drive and connection both personally and conceptually through his paintings. He demonstrates an eagerness to share and command his own narrative through his work.
In Thonton Kabeya’s mixed media artworks he repurposes and reimagiines materials and objects. Kabeya challenges perceptions through the layering of perspectives. Having created work along the juxtapositions of urban and rural contexts, in this exhibition Kabeya reveals the precarity and vulnerability of the individual in the Congo. His work grows out of his exploration of the cities he’s experienced, having studied in Lubumbashi, living in Johanesburg and visited other European cities, and the related conflicts of these spaces – both politically and artistically. His work extends the dimensionality of framed works, expanding sculpturally and challenging mediums as he uses his creations work to illustrate the experiences of the chaos of individuality amongst masses.
The works in this exhibition are vast, complex and specifically individual, offering various vantage points from which to examine or query the complexities of the ongoing crisis in congo but also the creativity and lived realities of those who have borne witness to it in their various ways. While the unknown has often been presented as a darkness to be feared or withdrawn from, darkness rises in this exhibition to reveal an invitation, into thoughts, pain, celebrations and understandings. Held within the unknown there is possibility, potential and beauty. As the click of a camera allows only a glimpse of light into an otherwise dark chamber, or the hollow of a string instrument carries its sounds, perhaps darkness is imbued with a kind of fullness that when embraced can recover and realise possibilities.
Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1977, Papytsho Mafolo’s work depicts questions about the relativity between cultural identity and human behaviour. He questions cultural identity crises and the historical heritage of human societies, with a particular emphasis on African culture.
Fragments of bodies half man and half animal often appear in his painting, which tell the realities of an African culture fragmented by foreign hegemony.
Open-minded, Mafolo does not hesitate to experiment with new styles and techniques after research or during new artistic encounters which results are reflected, moreover, by the energy that emerges in his works.
In practice, his techniques usually involve a collage of gold leaf, printed images, acrylic but also oil paint and unfinished lines on a canvas. These unfinished lines, according to Mafolo, evoke an infinite world but also as a self-reminder that artistically, he has not arrived yet.
Mafolo’s work is included in the permanent collections of UNESCO collection (France), Rotary Club Collection (Kinshasa), Shell Collection (Kinshasa), King of Jordan private Collection and the D.R. Congolese presidential collection.
Born in Kinshasa in 1981, the artist Bouvy Enkobo is a visual artist, graduated (bachelor) from ESFORA School of Arts in Kinshasa, where he lives and works.
Bouvy Enkobo grew up in art world and has been passioned about drawing since his childhood. At 12 he started selling postcards he made. He is part of the generational conflict between the Academy of Fine Arts in Kinshasa and “the new wave” of artist and chooses to pursue his career alone. His innovative approach both in terms of technique, colors and themes addressed gives him a fast recognition. At only 25, his resume was already rich with several exhibitions in the DRC and abroad.
In his works, the artist wants to account for the elusive and fugitive profiles that coexist in large cities: time and human intelligence are intertwined. Modern world expansion and evolution are taking place with no regard to individuals, and sometimes to their detriment. Individuals are drowned in the mass, standardized; there is no longer any possibility of differentiating them.
Bouvy represents the left-behind and the marginalized of society, in the form of stricken and prostrate characters. Within these heterogeneous architectural complexes that are the big cities, the “average Joe” feels like a stranger. Human inventions, construction cranes and machines lead to ruthless race to an uncertain future.
Cape Town-based writer, visual artist and curator born in Lubumbashi, DRCongo (1976). Patrick attended Preparatory school for engineering degree at the University of Lubumbashi before moving to Kinshasa in 1998 to then study architecture and painting.
“I want my work to bring a disruption in the representation of Africa. In fact, the manner in which the continent has been depicted, has been cliched for a very long time, which was created by colonialism, his corollary, the exoticism and the auto-exoticism. Those representations tend to portray us as a culture that is stuck in the past and designed for exportation, denying what we have become. I would like my work to embrace our urban conception of space and time in a dynamic cultural timeframe.
Utilizing collages and paper-cuttings help me to reach more freedom in the layout. Paper is so humble, easy to use and comes from everyday life. Such a medium can express the uncertainty and obsolescence of urban culture. I make use of the low angle perspective to convey a sense of monumentality to my figures.
To add more depth to my work, I create a narrative to link it to literature, history and politics.”
Turning your back on the UN
84.1 x 59.4 cm
DR Congo is one of the countries with the largest number of UN peacekeepers. However, under their immobile gaze, women, children and men are victims of unspeakable violence. Since 1996, in the east of the DR Congo, there has been insecurity.
Aza Mansongi aligns with her native Congolese school of figurative realism, but she transcends these expectations with her bursts of colourful abstracts that radiate energy, humour and humanity. Mansongi’s visual artistry has enjoyed exposure in Africa, Europe and the USA. Her work vibrates with the hope for happiness with one another, despite – or perhaps because of – the frenetic unpredictability of modern life.
Aza Mansongi’s art doesn’t speak – it sings. Her Congolese background provided her with a school of classical, figurative realism but it also gifted her with her subject matter – humanity persevering or rather thriving, despite hardship, strife and trauma. This is evident in her visual art, where whispers of war are hinted at with depictions of weaponry, but these are never granted the focus of the piece. Instead, her art vibrates with energy, humour and light. Her early inspiration of comic books sparkles across her mediums of painting, sculpture, installation and video. Her art is the embodiment of celebrating life and all that it offers – with vignettes of evil overwhelmed by expanses of festivity and love. Her work reflects hope for a moment of happiness with one another, not matter how brief it is. The result is a cheerful tangle of indistinct bodies that mix and mingle, illustrating her need to unite and exchange with others.
Aurel Okuka Mokando
Born in the Congo, Aurel is a man of eclectic talents. A painter, photographer, videographer, digital brand designer, ceramicist and founding member of BeatBox Culture SA. His lives by the motto “art is life, and as long as we are living, we will always be in need of it.’
“Imagine we were all living together as one… as an artist I attempt to portray, through the use of different patterns representing different people, the notion of ‘coming together’. I want to open up a conversation about ‘How can we make this a reality?’, to live together as one nation – making this world a beautiful and better place.”
Ley Mboramwe hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He completed his degree in Fine Art at the ‘Academie des Beaux’ in Kinshasa (the centre of Africa).
His life experience in the Congo, its suffering, beauty, politics, culture and economic circumstances is evident in his work.
Through his work he has tried to convey rhythm, emotion and freedom of the human spirit. His silhouetted figures are not only a representation of the physical self, but rather an amalg mation of flesh and spirit. The spirit as something in search of a tangible tether to land.
The human body is used as a means of storytelling and a reflection of life. Where stories, such as looting, hunger, disease, nightmares, dreams and the joys of human existence are theoretically portrayed. Mboramwe attempts to transfigure flesh into spirit, flesh into the depths of human suffering and happiness, flesh into the inner beauty and despair of human life. He uses the body as a mirror to the soul.
Thonton Kabeya was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1983. In 2014, Thonton moved to Johannesberg where he now lives and works. His body of work is activated by the aspect of time and the persistence of memory.
Thonton recreates visual paradises, through rich colour palettes that trace intimate landscapes intrinsic to the artist’s childhood experiences. No longer rich in tangibility, yet still evocative, Thonton divulges the transience of paradise eminent in sensation but no longer concrete in form.
“Despite the passage of almost 25 years since my childhood, the memories of coming together with my friends in the evening to share the joy and energy of our youth is still powerfully evocative, and I am easily captivated by my reminiscence into my younger years. Our lives were playgrounds, filled with possibilities, and dreams of our youth. These works were created in celebration of these memories.
La Rumba (series)
walnut powder and newspaper Ink transfer on Canvas
approx. 24 x 16 cm (each)
Jacques Dhont was born in the Congo in 1959. His parents moved to South Africa in 1967 and settled in Somerset-West. After studying painting at the Uni- versity of Stellenbosch, he completed a double major in painting and sculpture at the Michaelis School of Fine Art (UCT) in 1989.
Soon after completing his degree, Jacques moved to the Overberg region where he could work close to nature, living in abandoned farm houses without electricity or running water. It was here that he first started experimenting with the creation of sculptures using woven wattle bark. (The black wattle is an alien and invasive tree species which used to grow in forests on the banks of the Riviersonderend.) Jacques mastered the weaving technique and developed what is now his signature aesthetic – combining bark, brass, bronze and recreated found objects to create sculptural figures. Jacques has also been experimenting with new media, particularly stone and bronze.
For the past couple years Jacques has been living within the beautiful Klein Drakenstein Mountains in Paarl, where he is learning to juggle his art and helping to care for his lively young children.
Jonathan Vatunga (aka VAT) was born in 1996 in Kinshasa (DRC) where he lives and works today. Recently graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts, this young Congolese painter quickly made a name for himself. His multilayer artworks composed with paint, glue and engravings mix abstraction and realism.
Through his art, Jonathan often stresses the importance of social interactions in the times of individuality. His subjects are both unique and plural, simple and complex at the same time. Behind joyful aesthetics created by vibrant compositions and vivid colours, the artists manages to confront us with some difficult matters such as gun violence, conflicts and artworks spoliation. In this way, Jonathan wishes to pay his homage to the victims of violent acts and send a message of hope and awake the conciseness, all in delicacy and poetry.