The Tiroche DeLeon Collection recently acquired a fantastic piece by Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga, one of the most exciting young African contemporary artists, out of his current series of works "Mangbetu". We are pleased to dedicate this artist spotlight to him.
In his new acrylic series, Congolese artist Eddy Kamaunga Ilunga (b. 1991) pays homage to the Mangbetu people, an ethnic group of warriors constituting the largest subgroup from the Democratic Republic of Congo, originating from his own hometown city Kinshasa. Yet, although the silhouettes of his figures illustrate a traditional aesthetic, a closer look at the detailing reveals that his work is highly influenced by pop culture and 21st century technology. The figures are of Mangbetu warriors, draped in vibrantly colored traditional clothing and donning impressive headdresses. But through their skin, their attire and the paintings' color-blocked background, pulses an electric energy depicted by the contours of what looks like the inside of a computer hard drive.
This unique body of works brings forth the tension between an ethnic group defined by tradition and their inevitable external adaptation to modernity. The Mangbetu people are in fact the world's largest exporter of coltan, a material used in computer chips and mobile phone devices. This comes at the price of exploitation of workers in the coltan mines and violation of their human rights. Kamuanga embeds the products of the coltan export into his figure's skin, the metallic chips gleaming in contrast to the figures' dark complexions, an image of an ancient culture trapped in a modern system. The figures are large and heroic, seem heroic, but are seated in wilting poses of despair that also seem to reference the postmodern individualistic depression plaguing millennials nowadays, and subtlety mourns the Mangbetu's disappearing culture.
Kamuanga's paintings are a visual delight, showcasing his highly skilled use of acrylic to depict an almost digital looking image. Even though his models are authentic and traditional, as he met with a number of elderly Mangbetu people in order to research his work, his imagery possesses a pop art undertone, with color blocking and cartoonish outlines. Kamuanga's work is overtly influenced by commercialism, cosmopolitanism and African urbanism (note that many of his characters are wearing casual flip flops on their pedicured feet, for example).
Oubliez le passé et vous perdez le deux yeux, 2016
"Influence" (below), Kamuanga's wonderful piece acquired by the Tiroche DeLeon Collection, depicts a monumental Mangbetu woman. Draped in richly colored traditional material, exposing a bare torso, her manicured fingers clasp a Christian cross while she sits dazed in thought. Her skin is decorated with tiny silver dots and thin white lines, turning her skin into an electric circuit board. She represents the Mangbetu culture's sedation through Christianity and modernity, a systematic erasing of an abundunt ancient heritage.
Kamuanga graduated from the Institute of Fine Art, Kinshasa in 2009 and then joined the Academy of Fine Arts. Soon after, he established the studio "M'Pongo", a collective of young artists in Kinshasa looking for a creative and individual style. He took part in several exhibitions in the DRC and abroad, including an exhibition at the French Institute Gallery, Brazzaville, Congo, and Dak'Art OFF, Dak'Art: The Biennale of Contemporary African Art, Senegal, 2014.
By: Melanie Stern
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