Chocolate and Capitalism Face Off in a New Sculpture Exhibit

This African art collective seeks to subvert the infrastructure of the fine art world.

by Abby Ronner
Feb 11 2017, 3:58pm

How My Grandfather Survived, 2015. Photos courtesy CATPC

These chocolate sculptures were first conceived in clay in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then rendered digitally, 3D printed, and cast in chocolate. The Congolese art collective, Cercle d'Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (CATPC), uses cocoa harvested from their own plantation as a symbolic stand against exploitative economic practices and lingering colonial structures. Through their eponymous show at the SculptureCenter in New York, the artists hope to reveal the complex and overlooked relationships that sustain the fine art world. "This entire show and the whole project is about revealing the structures, the underlying conditions of wealth, art, circulation, and consumption," curator Ruba Katrib tells The Creators Project.


Installation view

The project Katrib refers to is CATPC's sustainable art and research community currently being built from the ground up in Lusanga, a small village where, little over a century ago, they were forced to cede their culture and land to a man named William Lever. In 1911, Lever signed a treaty with the Belgian government, acquiring rights to all of the palm oil of the Democratic Republic of Congo, then simply Congo. He set up shop in the heart of the rainforest, in a small village called Lusanga, and renamed it "Leverville." Enforcing monoculture, he forbade any activities not related to labor in the palm oil plantations, effectively eradicating the Congolese culture. This type of plantation system took hold throughout Congo at the time, yielding a solid infrastructure of wealth for colonizers that has supported the highest levels of Western culture, financing much of the modern fine art world. Even the Tate Modern organizes an annual commission of artworks, entitled The Unilever Series, named after corporate sponsor Unilever, a multibillion dollar corporation that finds its origins in the palm oil giant, William Lever.


Poisonous Miracle, 2015


View of research center (still under construction) - © Léonard Pongo


Jérémie Mabiala reflecting on his work, "The Art Collector."


The Art Collector, 2014

Two works in the show stand out. The Art Collector portrays a sinister man in a suit, whose left leg is subsumed within a large block and whose right is bound by a serpent and vine. According to Katrib, it references the entrapment of greed, power, and wealth. In Self Portrait Without Clothes, a naked woman sits on the ground, legs parted, completely exposed, her palm extended skywards as if in search of help. The artist, Mbuku Kimpala (pictured below), elaborates on her sculpture, stating that it represents the nakedness of all the women in the world. She says, "When I made my first large sculpture, I was very scared, because the people of the village criticized me a lot. But it is very important for me to show what's in my heart. That's why I dared to do it, and when it was shown in Europe, people liked it a lot. That made me really happy. My hope is that we won't be forgotten, that the powers that be, here and in Europe, will recognize us so that we can continue working in the studio." The artists in CATPC claim the DRC as their home and the inspiration for their art. They have no desire to exist within or transition into the fine art world. Instead, they view their art as a personal way of communicating with individuals they will never have the chance to meet. They simply want to send a message.


Mbuku Kimpala working on a sculpture © Léonard Pongo


Emery Muhamba working on a new sculpture © Léonard Pongo


Installation view

Cercle d'Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise is on display at the the SculptureCenter in Long Island City through March 27, 2017.


It's Art: Benedict Chocobatch Bunnies

How Artists Are Addressing the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Need More Activism In Your Art? Look No Further Than This Center