A New Art Museum Stands on a Former Plantation in the Congo

By constructing an art center in one of the most disenfranchised parts of the world, activists want to ensure that the intellectual and financial benefits of art accumulate there, instead of places like New York and Berlin.

by DJ Pangburn
01 May 2017, 11:00pm

For years, the Unilever corporation operated a palm oil plantation in the Congolese forest in Lusanga, Democratic Republic of Congo. Now, this former plantation is an art museum thanks to a collaboration between the Cercle d'Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (Congolese Plantation Workers Art League, or CATPC) and the Amsterdam-based Institute for Human Activities (IHA). The museum fittingly named the White Cube, opened April 21 in a ceremony dubbed "The Repatriation of the White Cube." The museum lies at the heart of the Lusanga International Research Centre on Art and Economic Inequality (LIRCAEI), an organization through which the CATPC artists are becoming both economically and artistically empowered. There, the artists create sculptures molded in clay, which are then 3D-printed and cast in cacao, the raw resource that powers the Congo's $100 billion chocolate industry.

The inaugural exhibition—curated by CATPC—features work, including the chocolate sculptures, that reflects on the on the geopolitical, social, and economic situation of corporate extraction zones globally. Many of the artworks refer to the Congo and its rich history. They include paintings by Marlene Dumas and Luc Tuymans about Congolese independence leader Patrice Lubumba and his wife Pauline, produced specifically for this exhibition. CATPC also produced new bodies of work in response to contributions by Western artists.

The IHA's founder, Dutch artist Renzo Martens, tells Creators that CATPC decided to exhibit the works in traditional huts built into the environment; the idea being that the pieces will cohabitate with the plantation's ecosystem. These huts form something of a labyrinth that leads to the White Cube, where artwork is also shown.

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