Eddy Kamuanga Illunga has produced a series of paintings that draw on forms of advertising, photography and traditional Congolese aesthetics. The paintings are the result of Illunga’s examination into the influence of globalisation on African identities and the anxieties of contemporary African urbanism in Kinshasa, the third largest urban area in Africa and the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The DRC has a dense and complex history of political and social turmoil. It stems from the brutal colonial regime run by Belgium and the turbulent postcolonial years under Patrice Lumumba, coup leader Mobutu Sese Seko, the assassinated President Laurent-Désiré Kabila and the current President of the DRC, his son, Joseph Kabila.
Out of the lingering effects of the brutal Belgian colonial regime and decades of violence in the postcolonial years, Illunga has created a body of work that introduces the audience to the cultural diversity of contemporary Kinshasa.
Illunga investigated two points in the history of the DRC – the structural complexity of the city today and the traditional culture of the Mangbetu people. The Mangbetu are distinguished by their practice of elongating their heads from birth and their resistance to colonisation. Illunga uses the Mangbetu as a symbol for the marginalisation of traditional cultures.
Using heavy textures and patterns set against large fields of different colour configurations, his paintings conflate pop culture references across music, fashion and dance. As a shout-out to modern advertising, Illunga has a mixture of ancient and modern writings sprawled against the backdrops behind his subjects. His work challenges the viewer because it evades any ordinary and clichéd narratives of the postcolonial experience.
Illunga graduated from the Institute of Fine Art in Kinshasa before he joined the Academy of Fine Arts. He wasn’t suited to an organised academy, so he established a collective of young artists in Kinshasa called M'Pongo to foster an alternative space for collective art production. The collective has exhibited at the Institut Français du Congo in Brazzaville and Dak’Art OFF, which runs alongside Dak’Art, the Biennale of Contemporary African Art.
Illunga’s work will be on show during 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair in New York from 6 – 8 May and from 6 – 9 October in London.
Images via Artsy.