Horror and hope: paintings from the Zaïre popular school

05 Jun 2015

A new exhibition gathers rarely seen works by leading Congolese artist Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu, who depicted the country’s brutal colonial past, the fight for independence and later struggles for power.

Horror and Hope

Colonie Belge II

The Zaïre School of popular painting, a movement that gained popularity during the 1960s and 1970s, had a significant influence on the wider context of African art.

Colonie Belge 1885–1959

The group of mostly self-taught artists introduced the use of bold colour and text on canvas, to make pointed political statements particularly about the burden of Zaïre’s (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) colonial past.

Mobutu Sese Seko

Using techniques of poster painting, street art and advertising signage in their work, a style that has now been embraced by many contemporary artists from across the continent, the Zaire School were clear that their paintings were for local people.

Le 30 juin 1960, Zaïre indépendant

Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu was one of the pre-eminent painters of this school. Here, he depicts one of the leaders of the Congolese independence struggle, Patrice Lumumba, giving his famous 30 June 1960 speech, condemning the colonial powers.

Manifestation des Etudiants à Lubumbashi

(Students protest in Lubumbashi)Born in 1947 in Élisabethville (now Lubumbashi), Kanda-Matulu began painting in the 1960s. He became the main figure of the artistic movement that dealt boldly with the themes of ancestral origins, colonial history, the fight for independence, and post-colonial struggles for power.

GécaMines II

The gécamines factory and its slagheap became a symbol of the country’s exploitation by western powers. Located in Lubumbashi, it once dominated the local landscape and became a powerful symbol of the excesses of colonialism for many of the painters of the period.

Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu and Professor Etienne Bol

Between 1974 and 1976 Kanda-Matulu painted his best known work, many commissioned by the German anthropologist Jahnnes Fabian. The artists last paintings date from 1981. Various efforts to contact him in the last two decades have proved fruitless, and art historians now believe he is no longer alive 53 echoes of Zaire: Popular Painting from Lubumbashi Democratic Republic of Congo is on display until 30 June.