As those of you in Belgium may be well
aware, the Yambi Festival of Congolese Arts is soon to be fully
underway. I have provided a link to the event site and schedule for
those of you in proximity as well as an excerpt -- translated into English
-- from an article written by Guy Deplat in today's La Libre
Belgique. Additionally, I have translated (to the best of my
ability) an article also written by Guy Deplat which appeared in the September
18 edition of La Libre Belgique about the National Museum in
Kinshasa that I found to be quite interesting. I think I have
captured reasonably well all of the meanings and apologize for any
inaccuracies in my translation. I thought these articles would be of
interest and provide as well the links to the original French versions for
those of you who wish to read the articles in their
An abridged, rough translation:
Yambi presents 150 Congolese artists and 322 events at 117
Yambi will be the most important cultural event organized by
the French Community and an even greater event with a country partner --
on the whole, 150 Congolese guest artists guests and 322 events in 117
different places, in Wallonia, in Brussels, in Flanders and in Paris. But
Yambi is not just a kind of Europalia Congo, it is also a vast
cultural operation upstream and downstream from this festival.
For two years, on the instigation of the French Community's
General Commission on International Relations (CGRI), a vast endeavor has been
undertaken in the Congo. A team - with Christine Favart, commissioners Mirko
Popovitch, Olivier Van Hee and Jacques Deck, and, for the visual arts,
Roger-Pierre Turine - completed an enormous work. She could count on the
delegation and the Wallonia- Brussels arts centre in Kinshasa
with Fredy Jacquet, Marc Kohen and Braine Tshibanda. This last group
furrowed through the Congo for two years with the Congolese
commission Yoka to study all cultural work that was still made in the
country so that the invited artists are not only Kinois (i.e., from
Kinshasa). They went into the corners of the countr ... The
French Community helped to rehabilitate cultural centers in
Kinsangani, Matadi, Goma and Lubumbashi.
The result of this search is partly disappointing. Finally, 80%
of the invited artists are Kinois. This is not unexpected, after 40
years of Mobutism and ten years of war. One then organized corps of
videographers and photographers and assembled spectacles of theatre with
The selection was strict. It avoided the political traps (with
courage to refuse the national ballet). It preferred not to choose the
well-known artists already established (as in music, Papa Wemba
and Werrason; in dance, Faustin Linkyuela; or in visual arts,
Kingelez), preferrin g emerging artists. The result must sometimes be
considered with the ell of a country concerned with so many miseries,
but everywhere, a formidable energy will be found.
This rebirth of the Congolese culture, its opening-up must
then continue with the assistance of the French Community, but also with
the assistance of the Congolese government with the hope that it will
understand that to help its artists is its best investment.
It is impossible to detail here the complete program which one will be
able to find in an
ad hoc booklet or the site www.yambi.be. ...
************ ********* ********* ********* ********* ******
This is the article about the National Museum in Kinshasa that appeared
on September 18:
"Return to Us Our Treasures" by Guy Duplat
The museum of Kinshasa is better. Kuba and Hemba treasures have
reappeared. But it remains without means, in a state of absolute misery. And
its leaders seek to reclaim the objects which have been stolen.
Mobutu adored the Ngaliema mount, which
is next to the Congo River. The wooded hills are fresher than the
streets of the city when the rainy season arrives. The former
president-for- life had his residence there and he had offered to the
National Museum a place there to store its prestigious collections. Today,
what remains there is a misery. The bringuebalant (unsteady) taxi arrives
cahin-caha (just barely), by circumventing the ruts leading to the gates of
the property. Two soldiers stand guard. OK, you are
The former warehouses of the veterinary services were allocated in
1970 to the National Museum. The grasses invaded the paths, the open-air
theatre and the cemetery of the pioneers. The splendid view of the river is
masked by invading vegetation.
Zola Kuandi, the director of the National Museum, the equivalent of
our [Belgian] museum of Tervuren, welcomes us. We had previously visited in
2001 and, since then, the situation has improved. Six years ago, there were
only two people, unpaid, to care for of all the museum and its collections.
The others did not come any more, for lack of wages. Six years ago, one still
moved through the collections under the holes in the roofs of the hangars --
holes caused by the falling mangos and which allowed the rain, robbers and
termites to enter.
Today, the personnel have returned. More
than sixty people are presently active and the roofs are repaired. There is a
semblance of order. But agitation is often a cache-misère: the museum does not
have a centime to ensure its operation, it does not have an internet
connection. The personnel is as in a shadow theatre, reduced often to making
pretence of work with the best will of the world.
In front of the gate are some large wheels which belonged to Stanley.
Further along, the equestrian statue of Léopold II and that of Albert I are
posed against the roof of a hangar. In a warehouse are thrones of Mobutu and
its wife. What was one of most beautiful collections in the world of art of
Central Africa was largely plundered between 1997 and 2002. In 2001 the two
remaining guardians had dismounted in vain the old chimpanzee cages of Mobutu
to use them as nettings on the windows, but the robbers passed through
all of them. At the time of the arrival of the troops of Kabila, there was
panic and the museum was left abandoned, gates open.
Many pieces were stolen, others thrown. The prestigious Kuba royal
statues were stolen as of the first day, it is said. But the thefts did
not cease over the subsequent five years, in spite of the troops guarding the
park, despite the grills, despite the locked cupboards. It was estimated that
more than 10,000 pieces out of the 45,000** inventoried had disappeared
between 1997 and 2002! The current figures are not known
Several hangars shelter treasures of art from the Songye, Kuba, Hemba,
Pende, Luba, Kongo, Teke, Yaka, Tshokwe, Lega and others. One sees lines of
masks like totems asleep for eternity in metal cupboards, lines of drums,
statuettes aligned in drawers, splendid ornaments, weapons by the hundreds,
fetishes, stone statuettes. All of the works come from the four corners of
Many of the most beautiful acquisitions were stolen and re-emerged, to
be sold at ransom prices by dealers in New York, Brussels and South Africa.
The local antique dealers knew the presence of the most beautiful works
because it was often they who had sold them to Mobutu when he accumulated this
collection between 1970 and 1980 in answer to the challenge to find the
cultural roots of the country, as Senghor had advised him to do. These antique
dealers could give very precise directions to the robbers. They knew the
collections better than the guardians! This is why the guardians tried to mix
up the locations, to change the places of the objects. They removed all the
labels on the cupboards to try to delude the thieves!
Today, a little optimism has returned. The two masterpieces of the
collections were miraculously found: a Kuba royal statue of the XVIIIth
century (there are only seventeen of them in the world) and a Hemba ancestor
with his beautiful face, bearded and wise -- pieces which are worth fortunes
on the international market. They had been believed stolen but they were
found, a few years ago, hidden in the base of a large drum, atop a cupboard.
"They are in a safe place", we are told, before they are shown to us. Superb.
Two versions even circulate within the museum: a robber would have
placed them there to recover them later. Or it would be the brother Joseph
Cornet, pillar of the museum for twenty years, who explained a little before
his death that he had saved these two masterpieces by hiding them
A visit to the collections of the museum is a little less depressing.
Admittedly, splendid masks were devoured by termites and have fallen to dust.
The surfaces of others, covered with coatings by the local tribes, have been
attacked by parasites. Moisture nearly destroyed rare fabrics that the
museum had accumulated. But one tries today to treat these objects. One
freezes the pieces infested with insects in order to kill them. But the means
remain ridiculous. "There is not in Congo any real will to promote the
museum," says one person on site. "And the Belgians do not help us enough.
They should do everything to recover and return the pieces stolen from us
which are on sale in Belgium, return them to us without using our impoverished
means as a pretext not to do so"
The persons in charge of the museum also regret that the Yambi event
focusing on Congolese culture, which begins on September 27, does not speak
about the treasures of the National Museum. (Yambi, actually, is interested
only in the current culture in Congo). "That would have been a formidable
occasion to raise awareness of the state of our museums and this problem of
A plan always exists - a dream - to even establish a new museum in
Kinshasa, beside the Palace of the people, but there is not a
franc and while waiting one must be
satisfied with a small exhibition room at the Academy of Fine Arts. The museum
had also studied, with its counterpart in Tervuren, the project of an expo on
the "hundred masterpieces of the Museum of Kinshasa" which would have been
presented at Tervuren in 2006 and then at Kinshasa, but the project fell
through, and the exhibition did not travel on to Kinshasa. This Saturday,
President Kabila could visit the museum of Tervuren. The start of a new
**Note: As of 1975 when selections
from the collections of the IMNZ (Institute of the National Museums of Zaire)
were exhibited in the US under the aegis of the African-American Institute and
the American Federation of the Arts, Mobutu acknowledged that "most of the art
we are now exhibiting are generous gifts from people who have understood that
we have been plundered -- people who knew that, in order to teach our children
about the achievements of our parents and grandparents, it was necessary for
us to recover these objects. We hope that this good example will be an
inspiration to those in America who may own works of art from Zaire. If
we had not been deprived of some treasures, we could have shown to the
world... a more representative sampling of our vast artistic heritage."
("Foreword" by Citoyen Mobuto Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, pp. 9-10
in Art from
Zaire: 100 Masterworks from the National Collection (New
York: The African-American Institute. 1975) At that time,
there were reportedly more than 50,000 documented objects amid the collections
held under the umbrella of the IMNZ.
A related prior discussion regarding the plunder and destruction of works
in Zairean museums can be seen in Message 1657
by visiting the cited article by D'Lynn Waldron about the destruction at
Luluabourg at http://www.dlwaldro n.com/Luluabourg .html
Of course, above and beyond the material loss, there was a severe loss of
human life precipitated by the events which transpired in the Kasai region at
the time of Independence, as described in the linked passage.