Congolines: Inscribing Lines, Weaving Threads. Congolese Colonial Drawings and Paintings as Images and Objects

September 2021 to December 2025
reception history
female painters
patronage networks
art technological research
Research fields
Arts and Architecture
History and Archaeology

This research project aims to reconstruct a long history of painting and drawing in DRCongo by analysing three types of collections in the Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA) and the Royal Library of Belgium (KBR): - abstract geometric and realistic scenes in rock arts, on traditional objects such as calabashes and ivory horns, murals and paintings (Northeast Congo, 1900-1960); - paintings on sheets of paper by Albert and Antoinette Lubaki and Thsyela Ntendu (colonial province of Kasai, 1920s30s); - paintings with oil on paper and oil on canvas (Elisabethville and Leopoldville, 1940-50s). These collections were composed by (male) Westerners who tried to influence and control Congolese painting and/or to cherish an "authentic" Congolese painting tradition. These paintings were traditionally labelled as 'colonial' because of the use of western materials and/or the depiction of colonial society, even though they show important similarities to earlier geometric and decorative art forms associated with oral culture.

The general objectives and underlying research questions are:

- to reinscribe these artworks in a longer history of drawing by studying them in conjunction with tradition-based art forms from which they were separated as a result of colonial bias;

- to study the context in which the works were made and used in the colonial contact zone, and served as mnemotechnic devices and performative objects for Congolese;

- to study the paintings from the point of view of Congolese artists and Congolese publics, rather than from the perspective of the white (mostly male) “discoverers” and patrons of the artists.

- to analyse the reception history of these art works in world art in connection to early 20th century western art and design;

- to pay particular to female painters and western women involved in patronage networks.