0310 The Art Exhibition at the Palais du Congo Belge et du Ruanda-Urundi at the Expo 1958 in Brussels

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  • Bärbel Küster (Author)
    Institute of Art History, University of Zurich

    Bärbel Küster helds the chair of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Institute of Art History, University of Zurich. Her research focuses on transnational aspects and artistic appropriations in modern art as well as on museum history, ethnographic and colonial exhibitions, and artistic relations between Africa and Europe, resulting in publications such as "French Art for All! Museum Projects in Africa 1912–1931 between Avant-Garde and Colonialism", in: The Museum is Open. Towards a Transnational History of Museums 1750–1940, eds. Bénédicte Savoy and Andrea Meyer, Berlin 2013, 245-260; "The First Colonial Art Museum and Transnationalism in the Visual Arts: Saint Denis, La Réunion, 1912", in: Locating Transnational Ideals, eds. Saskia Schabio and Walter Göbel, London 2010, 157-172; "Zwischen Ästhetik, Politik und Ethnographie: Die Präsentation des Belgischen Kongo auf der Weltausstellung Brüssel-Tervuren 1897", in: Die Schau des Fremden. Ausstellungskonzepte zwischen Kunst, Kommerz und Wissenschaft, ed. Cordula Grewe, Stuttgart 2006, 95-118; and "'Weltkunst' und 'Globalkunst' – Widersprüche eines kunsttheoretischen und künstlerischen Handlungsraums als Utopie von Entgrenzung", in: Wissen in Bewegung. Theoriebildung unter dem Fokus von Entgrenzung und Grenzziehung, eds. Gérard Raulet and Sarah Schmidt, Stuttgart 2014, 259-275. For an oral history research project with photographers from Mali and Senegal, accompanied by a touring exhibition on show in Ulm, Dakar, St. Louis and Bamako, see the online presentation http://dakar-bamako-photo.eu/en/. An article on artistic interventions in ethnographic collections is in Joint Ventures. Der künstlerische Zugriff auf Kunstsammlungen und Ausstellungsgeschichte, an issue co-edited with Stefanie Stallschus and Iris Wien for 21: Inquiries into Art, History, and the Visual. Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte und visuellen Kultur 3 (2022), no. 1, DOI: https://doi.org/10.11588/xxi.2022.1. A current research project concerns "Episteme and Methods between Art History, Art and Ethnology in the Performative Pictorial Practices of Vodun", see https://vodun-epistemologies.ch.

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It was mainly thanks to the efforts of the Belgian artist Laurent Moonens, who had founded an art academy in the then Belgian Congo, that a group of young art students from Lubumbashi were able to travel to the 1958 World Exhibition in Brussels. Today, their works are regarded as the first generation of modern art in the DR Congo. At the time, the issue of modern art in the Congo was incorporated into the national tasks of the Belgian colonial power; voices criticising power relations or definitions are difficult to find in the sources. Nevertheless, the way in which these works were presented at the World Expo was not a matter of course at the time. This essay analyses the conditions of this very first exhibition, in which European and Congolese works were shown together. All those involved embraced an idea of "humanism", albeit their respective conceptions of it varied.


Expo 1958, Brussels, Belgian Congo, modern art, academy, decolonisation