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The HKU Museum Society and the University Museum and Art Gallery are pleased to present guided viewing of current exhibitions, Colours of Congo: Patterns, Symbols and Narratives in 20th-Century Congolese Paintings. We will be guided by Museum Director Dr. Florian Knothe.
Colours of Congo: Patterns, Symbols and Narratives in 20th-Century Congolese Paintings
Thanks to unprecedented access to extensive archives and art collections, the exhibition’s narrative presents a generous overview of paintings that were instigated when a single artist from Belgium began a painting workshop so as to collaborate with the indigenous population of Elisabethville (modern-day Lubumbashi). This first studio was followed by other workshops that assisted in developing a hybrid artform that remains a celebrated phenomenon.
The European influence of painting first began with Georges Thiry, who worked for Belgium’s colonial administration starting in 1926. In Elisabethville, Thiry had noticed a series of painted murals of crocodiles and birds. He inquired about the artist and was introduced to Albert Lubaki. Thiry was fascinated by the artist Lubaki, his wife, and the other community members who continued to document their connection to the natural world through wall paintings.
The exhibition and accompanying volume of essays primarily examines this group of paintings as artworks worth considering on their own merits—describing their techniques and inherent beauty, while acknowledging that their iconographic contents reflect daily life within village communities. The juxtaposition of European artists and artistic materials brought to Africa, and the display of African paintings in European art metropolises, initiated decades of intense collaboration and cultural exchange.
Temporary assistant professor in the African Studies Program of the University of Hong Kong Dr Estela Ibáñez-García, “The exhibition displays a selection of Congolese paintings and provides diverse perspectives to assist audiences in understanding the complexity of Congolese realities during colonial times. These perspectives reveal that reality is a construct based on how individuals make sense of their own experiences. Experience is always subjective, as it refers to how events are received by consciousness. Yet, as the essays in this catalogue illustrate, we can transcend this narrow sphere of subjectivity through the arts. A close reading of the paintings reveals how Congolese artists articulated and represented their own experiences during colonial times; a critical reading of how Europeans used and interpreted these creations also indicates their own worldview.”
Dr. Florian Knothe teaches the history of decorative arts in the 17th and 18th century with particular focus on the social and historic importance of royal French manufacture. He has long been interested in the early modern fascination with Chinoiserie and the way royal workshops and smaller private enterprises helped to create and cater to this long-lasting fashion. Dr. Knothe worked at The Metropolitan Museum of Art focusing on European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, and on European and East Asian glass at The Corning Museum of Glass, before his current position as Director of the University Museum and Art Gallery at HKU.
Untitled (The Nativity)
Oil on canvas, 50 x 66 cm
Signed ‘Kaballa. Syl. / E/ ville 1956’
Pierre Loos Collection
Photo: Michael De Plaen