25 January - 2 May 2020

Performing Objects: Bie Michels – ‘Memory of Congo, in Congo and in Mechelen’

ERforS HQ, Drogenbos, BE

Date: 25 January - 2 May 2020 (open on appointment)

Artist: Bie Michels

For this project the artist collaborated with: Lieven Miguel Kandolo, Anne Wetsi Mpoma, Georgine Dibua, Jessy Ohanu, Michel Witanga, Joël Ndombe, Nadia Nsayi, Rina Rabau, Stella Okemwa, Don Pandzou, Floribert Beloko, Michel Mongambo and Sarah Bekambo.

Duration film: (Pas) Mon Pays, Part I  and  II:  video, colour, 2019, 65'

‘Memory of Congo, in Congo and in Mechelen’ was commissioned by the Contour Biennale 9, Mechelen, BE (2019)

21 March 2020: In Conversation: Lucas Catherine, Bie Michels and Anne Wetsi Mpoma.
Start 15:00h. at Enough Room for Space

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Location: ERforS HQ:
Sterstraat 10 Rue de l'Etoile
1620 Drogenbos, Belgium

Directions from Brussels South Station:
Tram 82: stop Grote Baan / Grand Route
Metro 4: stop Stalle (P)  (10 min. walk)


Note:
 there are two number 10's in our street, one in the commune of Ukkel/Uccle and ERforS in Drogenbos!

film still of (Pas) Mon Pays, Part I by Bie Michels, 2019

Bie Michels was born and raised in Congo, in a house on the campus of the current University of Kinshasa (former Lovanium, the first university in the country, 1954-1971). The film ‘(Pas) Mon Pays, Part I and II’, is an integral part of the project ‘Memory of Congo, in Congo and in Mechelen’ , together with the installation ‘The Copy’, that will be shown at Enough Room for Space. The exhibition will also present archival material in relation to the history of the colonial monument in Mechelen and the proposed new inscription.

As the title indicates, ‘(Pas) Mon Pays, Part I and II’, is in two parts. The first talks about a colonial monument in Mechelen and Michels’ efforts to decolonize this statue with a group of Belgian citizens with Congolese roots. The second shows the artist’s visit to DR Congo and is based on her personal history. The film is an attempt to let the past encounter the present and see further into the future of the postcolonial situation, in both DR Congo and Mechelen.

screen-shot-2020-01-08-at-14-54-38

The monument in Mechelen, Lode Eyckermans, 1953 / right: 'The Copy' with the proposed new text, Bie Michels, 2019

In Mechelen, the colonial monument by Lode Eyckermans in the Schuttersvest pays homage to thirty one “pioneers who died for the civilisation in Congo” as it is inscribed on the statue. One of them is Van Kerckhoven, who was a notoriously cruel commander during the reign of king Leopold II of Belgium. The statue is very intriguing, with two stylised Congolese heads, a male and a female, as a Janus image. It aestheticises what is problematically called the African race and thus could be seen as a tribute to it. However, this is in stark contrast to the inscription on the plinth, since the inscriptions only tells one side of the story, the Belgian one.

Confronted with this, Michels asked the sculptor Raf Vergauwen to make a scaled-down copy of the monument. She collaborated with a group of Belgian citizens with Congolese roots living in Mechelen and the surrounding area on a proposal for a new inscription for this copy. Involved in this process were Lieven Miguel Kandolo; Anne Wetsi Mpoma; Georgine Dibua; Jessy Ohanu; Michel Witanga; Joël Ndombe; Nadia Nsayi; Rina Rabau; Stella Okemwa; Don Pandzou; Floribert Beloko; Michel Mongambo and Sarah Bekambo. 

In June 2019, after several months of meetings and working sessions, the group introduced this new inscription to the mayor of Mechelen, with the proposition to also place this text near the original statue. This text discusses both sides of history and focuses on the word civilisation, as well as acknowledging the impact of Belgian rule on Congo. Although critical, this inscription expresses a positive view of the future, a society of equality and respect.

christmas-1966-in-congo

The copy and the process, as well as the meetings and the visit, are the subject of Part I of Michels’ film. For Part II of the film, Michels went back to the campus of the University of Kinshasa (former Lovanium) for the first time since she left it at the age of nine. She visited the house where she grew up, the university buildings, her old school, the church, the swimming pool and the city of Kinshasa. Along with the filmmakers Paul Shemisi and Nisar Saleh from Kinshasa, she made a video report of her encounters with several people.

In the film, her personal history, in the form of old photos and memories, is confronted with the current reality. This offers her the opportunity to take a critical look at the university's origins and the historically grown problems of dealing with images (photo and film) in Congo. Among many encounters, Michels meets the family now living in her childhood home, professors and students of the departments of history and artificial intelligence, a slam poet, people in the street and so on.

The text ‘Civiliser le Congo Belge: de la coercition à la persuasion’ by the Congolese historian Sindani Kiangu was an important source of inspiration for her questions about the influences of colonisation on today’s civilisation.

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The proposed new inscription for the monument:

THE COLONISATION OF CONGO
LED TO A SHOCK
IN THE HISTORY OF HUMANITY.
IN THE NAME OF CIVILISATION,
ATROCITIES WERE COMMITTED,
VILLAGES WERE BURNT DOWN,
KINGDOMS DISAPPEARED.

THE COLONISATION CUT CONGO APART FROM ITS HISTORY,
CONTRIBUTED TO THE PROSPERITY OF BELGIUM
AND WEAKENED CONGOLESE SOCIETY.

THE WORD CIVILISATION SIGNIFIES RESPECT,
EQUALITY AND DIALOGUE,
IN RELATION TO A COMMON FUTURE.

THIS NEW INSCRIPTION
RESTORES AND PAYS HOMAGE
TO THE MILLIONS OF VICTIMS AND HEROES
OF THE COLONIAL TIME,
THOSE WHO ARE KNOWN AND LESS KNOWN.

BAKOKO NA BISO:
NGAKAPI
BOALI
WOTO-A-MBENGA
LUSINGA IWA NG'OMBE
KASONGO NYEMBO
SIMON KIMBANGU
PAUL PANDA FARNANA
PATRICE LUMUMBA
JOSEPH MALULA
PAUL LOMAMI-TSHIBAMBA

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21 March 2020: In Conversation: Lucas Catherine, Bie Michels and Anne Wetsi Mpoma. Start 15:00h. at Enough Room for Space

Lucas Catherine, author's name of Lucas C.L. Vereertbrugghen (born 1947), is a Brussels-based author who publishes on colonisation, the relationship of European civilisation with other world civilizations and Islam. He approaches religions from an atheistic perspective. He lived in Khartoum, Rabat and Dar es Salaam (1983-1990). Among other things he wrote about the colonization of Palestine: The Palestinians, one people too many? And Palestine, the last colony? About the colonization of Congo: Manyiema, the only war that Belgium won, Building with black money and Walking to Congo.

Anne Wetsi Mpoma graduated in History of Art at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in 2007. She is enthusiastic about visual arts and performing arts. After a short experience in an art gallery in New York she sets up the association Nouveau Système Artistique at the end of 2008. The purpose is to contribute to the promotion, diffusion and realisation of projects by artists of  African descent within the Belgian and European society. Through her field of work she organised for instance the theme days of Afro Brussels City (meetings with artists, film projections, performances), the 2010 Independence Day Festival or the exhibition Présences Congolaises en Belgique at the Maison des Cultures of Saint-Gilles in 2016. She takes also part in various cultural projects with federal institutions. Wetsi has a weekly column within Africana, the cultural programme on Radio Campus.

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Bie Michels (b. 1960, Kimwenza, Congo, lives and works in Antwerp)
In her work, Bie Michels focuses on observing, registering and questioning the representation of the ‘other’. Her paintings, installations and films not only question her own position with regard to the subject: she allows ‘others’ to collaborate or comment during her creative process. Thus the gaze or perspective of the ‘outsider(s)’ is an inherent part of the final result. These others may be artists, experts or labourers, but also people closely involved with the work.

The anthropological undertone of her work is not a scientific practice to render culture transparently, but rather a subjective and ephemeral way of ‘reading’ culture in an attitude of amazement. Through a working process of recording, collecting, appropriating, fragmenting and physical experiences, she tries to use sensual evocation to break down the boundaries between the artist, the audience and the ‘other’. She juggles with narrative structures, which allows her to undermine the dominant Western gaze and the myth of the univocal story. Furthermore, she explores the complex relationships (be they cultural, historical or interpersonal etc.) that a variety of individuals and groups maintain with objects in order to better understand both their surroundings and the existence of these objects in themselves.

Her work has been shown in Belgium and internationally, at venues including the 9th Contour Biennale (Belgium), Argos (Belgium), MHKA (Belgium), Netwerk Aalst (Belgium), Fei Contemporary Art Centre (Shanghai, China), Dunkerque 2013 in Dunkirk (France) and Hastings (UK) and Lokaal 01 (Breda, the Nederlands).