The Democratic Republic of Congo (‘DRC’) may not be frequently visited by tourists, but it is well-established as one of Africa’s leading artistic hubs. The bustling capital city of Kinshasa is home to more than 14 million people, who compose a diverse and vibrant urban melting pot. Kinois culture reflects both the country’s regional identities and colonial history, with French and Lingala being widely spoken today.
The country’s first major cultural export was Congolese Rumba, a genre of Afro-Cuban inspired dance music that became popular around the world in the mid 20th century. As a result, Kinshasa came to be known across Africa largely because of its music.
In the visual arts, the DRC has produced internationally-acclaimed artists such as Cheri Sambi, whose work plays with humour, satire and irony to portray the realities of everyday Congolese life. More recently, Kinshasa has produced exciting young artists such as painter Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga and photographer Gosette lubondo.
Kinshasa’s Academy of Fine Arts has played a central role in the city’s artistic success. Founded in 1943, it remains the only art academy in the Congo, and counts many of the country’s most renowned artists among its graduates.
Another key institution is the art gallery and cultural centre Texaf-Bilembo, which previously served as a textile factory (Texafrica). It is here that the ‘papiers-gouaches’ below were recently discovered. These articles of industrial design used as ‘matrixes‘ for the printing and production of textile cotton wax fabrics. They were believed to have been originally produced in the 1960s and in use through the 1980s, until the introduction of computer programs in the textile industry. While the artists are unknown, the prints capture a key era in the country’s history and reflect the patterns of trade and colonial legacy that have shaped the DRC over the last century.
• “Congolese Rumba and Other Cosmopolitanisms.” Bob W. White. Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines. 2002.