“‘The Great Forgetting’ and the Never Seen: Violence, Modernism, and the Visual Unconscious of Belgian Colonialism at the Tervuren Royal Museum for Central Africa, 1897-2017”; given by Professor Debora Silverman (UCLA)
In 2005, the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, just outside Brussels, mounted a major exhibition, “Memory of the Congo,” that attempted to confront for the first time a brutal colonial history in the center of the existing institution of official national denial. Prompted by this inaugural revision of 2005, the Museum’s rarely exhibited core collections of Art Nouveau ivory sculptures and wood furnishings were reclaimed to public view. These objects exemplify a complex and understudied mix of artistic innovation, political radicalism, and imperial enthrallment shared by members of the fin-de-siècle Belgian avant-garde, and they form part of a distinctively Belgian design style made from the raw materials of empire. This lecture, drawn from extensive research and a forthcoming book, identifies the origins of Belgian Art Nouveau as a specifically Congo nature style in the 1890s, and the ways that stylistic forms of modernism expressed a displaced encounter with a distant, but encroaching, imperial violence—what I call the return of the repressor in visual form. More broadly, the lecture brings back to the interpretive field a surprisingly unexamined cultural history of violence in nineteenth-century Belgium and suggests its interaction with patterns of violence in the Congo Free State. The lecture seeks to subvert a pattern of national and global forgetting that may be accompanying the renovations still underway at the Royal Museum as well as the new international circulation of its collections.
More at http://www.cmsi.ugent.be/cmsi-lecture-debora-silverman/