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'Congo as Fiction' Congo’s past and present interact at Zurich exhibition

“Nowhere else in Africa is artistic creativity so diverse, creative, and on the pulse of the times” as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, says the Rietberg Museum in Zurich, which is currently devoting an exhibition to artists from the African nation.

Congo as Fiction – Art Worlds Between Past and Presentexternal link” opened on November 22 and continues until March 15. Curated by Michaela Oberhofer and Nanina Guyer, the exhibition places historical works and photographs from Congo alongside the work of contemporary artists.

The starting point for the exhibition is a treasure trove of objects and photographs that the German art ethnologist Hans Himmelheber (1908-2003) brought back from his trip to the then Belgian Congo in 1938-39. The collection includes colourful masks, sculpted figures, and objects from daily life. His photographic legacy also reflects the social upheavals during the heyday of Belgian colonial rule.

For the exhibition, the internationally renowned artist and co-founder of the Lubumbashi Art Biennial Sammy Baloji and the young writer Sinzo Aanza examined Himmelheber’s archive and created their own fictional account of how to tell the story of their homeland.

Paris-based artists Michèle Magema and Fiona Bobo, who was born and raised in canton Zurich, were also commissioned to create works for the exhibition.

The exhibition showcases a total of 13 contemporary artists including Steve Bandoma, Hilary Kuyangiko Balu, Aimé Mpane, Chéri Samba, Yves Sambu, Monsengo Shula and Pathy Tshindele. All of them, whether through form or content, pay tribute to traditional Congolese art and the country’s cultural heritage.

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