This research project focuses upon the first paintings produced by Congolese in the DR Congo just before and during the colonial era, which show the influence of contact with westerners:
(1) 19th century mural paintings that merged pre-existing techniques and scenes with representations of Europeans and European-introduced artefacts (RMCA and KBR collections) and
(2) water and oil paintings made during the 1920s and 1950s which used techniques introduced by Europeans and whose themes include figurative and/or abstract representations (RMCA collections).
Overall, these paintings have been under-researched and their stories remain untold: more is known about the western collectors, patrons and photographers who constituted or photographed the collections than about the Congolese artists who created the works and their meanings from a Congolese perspective. This proposal will conduct the first ever field research on these paintings in collaboration with Congolese, with particular attention to paintings made by female artists.
The research aims to (1) inscribe the art works in the long history of Congolese drawing by means of a holistic and comparative approach to diverse regional traditions, which includes other precolonial, colonial and postcolonial (im)material cultural heritage; (2) uncover their as yet untold regional importance and meanings, as opposed to Eurocentric interpretations; (3) investigate them as artefacts of the contact zone in order to (3.1) foreground their importance as images or performative power objects from a Congolese perspective and/or (3.2) objects that were collected, appreciated and exhibited by westerners and influenced western artists and designers, and that were integrated into Congolese art history and, to a lesser extent collections (most are held in western collections); (4) write their reception history; (5) restitute the collections in various ways to Congolese on a regional and national level.
The project partners uses an interdisciplinary approach based on the methodologies of anthropology, art history, history, (im)material culture studies and visual studies, combining collection and archival research, literature review and fieldwork in order to privilege Congolese perspectives on Congolese art works, with particular attention paid to Congolese agency, including female artists from a female perspective. Additionally, the project engages with conservation science, collection management -digital restitution- and societal engagement.