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Yours, KOW

The International Celebration of Blasphemy and the Sacred, 2024

Dutch Pavillion at the Venice Biennial 2024

‚Mvuyu is the virile bird that crunches white cube museums across the world. It is sensitive to the pain of its fellow creatures: when it finds another bird or an animal trapped by hunters, it intervenes to help the creature free itself. Here, it is cracking open guilty white cubes in order to liberate the energy captured in them and to decolonize plantations.‘

‘A big beast feeds from the basket of a kneeling blind girl. Her heavy burden is attached permanently to her head. She feeds the ungrateful pig — the ‚civilized‘ Western world - while she herself lacks enough to eat.

She is not living, she is surviving. Between the hunger and the daily threat of disease, she is obliged to work in silence and without complaint. To ensure that every cup of coffee or bar of chocolate can be consumed by this beast, she needs to harvest more and more from the plantation. Behind his back, the beast holds a package, as if to hide or protect it from the enslaved girl. Even as she grows, she will always be preoccupied with feeding the frightening stranger, causing her to have little time to look after her own life.‘

‚The mother, the plantation, is the inspiration of and vector in the creation and continued existence of white cubes around the world. The world‘s art and financial institutions are constantly sucking at her brains, the organ that enables every human being to think. Subjugated without consent, she continues to help her tormentor. Despite herself, she gives away her brain and her strength to birth museums. These murderous, colonial institutions claim to be decolonizing, but why doesn‘t this decolonization extend to the plantations from which their wealth was cruelly extracted? The mother lives every day with the pain of childbirth. Her exhausted and martyred belly looks as if it has undergone multiple caesarean operations to give life to ungrateful, unrepentant museums of the North. This work is also a tribute to Dr Denis Mukwege, the gynaecologist who has helped tend to more than 60,000 women who have been raped in the war-torn east of Congo since 1998.‘

‚This upright figure is the one who exterminates Congolese people. He will pursue them anywhere to murder them. He is merciless and kills men, women and children alike with his bloody machete while spreading terror. He has no heart and burns down entire villages, raping women all the while. Sometimes he likes to bury his victims alive. Life has no value to him. He is the exterminator of all the places in eastern Congo that are currently under attack. There are so many refugees and no one to help them. Children no longer go to school. Instead, schools and churches have become places for refuge. Life is in turmoil. Whereever there is unrest in our country these are the truths that are impossible to hide. Our hearts go out to our people in Goma, Bunagana, Walikale, Kibumba, Masisi, Rutshuru, Ituri, Béni and Kivu. Never alone again.‘

‘Shakindungu is Balot‘s executioner. In 1931, the Belgian colonial agent Maximilien Balot was executed in the village of Kilamba. He had been ordered by his superiors to use every means possible to persuade the Pende to pay taxes mo and forcibly recruit able-bodied men from the de Pende population (reputed expert palmists) for de forced labour on the Huileries du Congo Belge (HCB) plantations in Lusanga. Waves of arrests tra and violence ensued, including sexual violence du against women and the imprisonment of children in bamboo cages. The list of atrocities is long. After a woman named Kafutshi was raped by another colonial agent, her husband de chief Matemo a Kalenge decided to lead a revolt. Balot was pierced with arrows before being decapitated by Shakindungu. His body le was dismembered and distributed to Pende notables and warriors, who kept parts of the oppressor‘s body as war trophies and symbols of victory.‘

‘Irene Kanga links her personal experiences to an historic event: the rape of a Pende woman by a Belgian colonial agent in 1931, in the midst of one of many campaigns to forcibly round up men to become palm cutters for the Lever Brothers plantation in Lusanga (formerly known as Leverville). During such a round-up, able-bodied men hid in the forest to avoid recruitment. In their absence, Kafutshi, one of the wives of chief Matemo a Kelenge, was forced against an enclosure and raped by colonial agents. According to the historian Charles Sikitele Gize, this rape was one of the key events that led to the decapitation and dismemberment of colonial agent Maximilien Balot, and to the great Pende revolt of 1931, one of the last open rebellions before independ-ence. Fought with bows and arrows against the machine guns of the colonial state, an un-told number of Pende lost their lives, including many of the political and religious elite.‘

‚A chameleon-like animal has sunk its teeth into a woman‘s left foot. Her expression shows her pain and alarm. Her long arms reach for the animal to let go, while her left leg becomes dotted with blisters. The sculpture recounts an allegorical tale: a grandmother is bitten by a chameleon in the forest and subsequently found to be possessed by evil. Blisters bloom across her skin but later they miraculously transmute into flowers. The story emblematizes the moment when an earlier generation first came into contact with the type of money introduced by Belgian colonizers. Like a chameleon, capitalism adapts to each new environment and spreads like the poison in its bite. It takes possession of every human. The sculpture shows this profound and perhaps traumatic moment of transformation. Thomas Leba leaves it to the spectator to decide whether this transformation is ultimately positive or catastrophic.‘

‘Ced‘art Tamasala has sculpted the story of his grandfather. He became an orphan after his father fell from a palm tree and died while working for the plantation company. This same company financed a missionary who took the child in and gave him an European-style education. This contaminated Tamasala‘s grandfather with the Western way and caused him to become alienated from his native culture, which the clergyman actively helped to destroy. The larger man of the pair represents the missionary. He has a long beard and a gown draped in the style of classical material.

Above his ears, hair peeks out like tiny devil‘s horns. In a paternal gesture, he rests his hand on the other man‘s shoulder. This smaller man, representing Tamasala‘s grandfather as a child, innocently brings his hand to his chest as if swearing an oath to the words of the Gospel.

He does not really understand the words because the writing is upside down. The book they are holding together reads: „Blessed are the poor.“‘

‚A pond is infested with a kasendele nzundu, a giant rat, that massacres all the fish. This beast symbolizes the power of banks, while the fish represent the accumulation of wealth in the Global North. In the name of ‚aid,‘ the ‚banker‘ rat will give you a loan that you will never be able to repay. Before lending his money, he lays out his conditions, one of which is that you must always leave your doors and windows open so that he may enter freely whenever he wants and help himself to whatever he pleases. This beast dominates all the economies of the planet and rules them with his strange laws that he alone understands.‘

‚This imposing bird is a spirit who deepens inequalities and fuels colonialist capitalism.

As an angel of evil it uses money to drive people to war. The coins that cover its body signify its influence over humanity. On the back of its left wing, we see the powerful dollar, accompanied by other currencies that dance with the dollar in its uncontrollable, colonizing and merciless rhythm. These other currencies include the euro, the Nigerian naira, the Central CFA franc and the Congolese franc.

On the bird‘s right wing, we see BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and Chinal currencies taking the lead. They join forces to counter their common adversary, the dollar, and to create their own institutions. They struggle against the Money Angel, the beast, who controls them and pushes humanity towards self-annihilation through economic wars, which in turn lead to military wars all over the planet.‘

‚This mysterious fish in human form knows when and how to protect its offspring from the dangers that can threaten the survival of its young. When danger threatens the family, the mother protects her babies by swallowing them whole and keeping them safe in her belly only to vomit them up later in a more secure place. This sculpture illustrates how a people united can give each other strength and camouflage themselves collectively when menaced by danger. Together, they can arrive at the destination the plantation workers aspire to reach: the decolonization of the plantation.‘

‚This sculpture is a testament to the importance of roots. Good roots, like those from which the post-plantation grows, facilitate a connection between us, the earth and the sacred forests. Bad roots can harm. If the roots are rotten, you will not have a good tree. Art institutions can have bad roots.

When the foundations of these institutions are corrupt, everything that grows from them becomes contaminated. The same goes for the multinational corporation Unilever. This is a tree that was planted with bad roots. This means that the investments that were made in the past into the plantations continue to exploit the land and the people.‘

‚This figure, dressed head to toe in nature, holds a brain in his hands. On opening his right eye, he discovers a secret: how to connect with the earth the spirits of his ancestors, who bequeathed to us a similar connection with nature. This strange human now knows how to think in complicity with nature. This intelligence drives us to reject monoculture and propagate polyculture on all the reclaimed lands, now arid, that will be regenerated along with the rest of the post-plantation, in Lusanga and elsewhere.‘

‚A woman sits on the trunk of a felled palm tree belonging to a withering monoculture plantation. She holds a seed in one hand while gesturing with the other for the world to stop.

She is a farmer who has banned genetically engineered seeds from her fields. Sitting on this devastated plantation, she urges others to save the land and use natural seeds for agroforestry. While genetically manipulated seeds often grow only once, natural seeds continue to provide fruit and generate new seeds. The title of the work references this idea of protecting unmodified seeds in nurseries.

These seeds enable a wonderful birth which can produce endless offspring for the future.‘

Wherever this man goes, he gives seeds to those he meets. Muyaka Kapasa saw this man in a dream: he was picking seeds from trees.

One of the seeds landed on Kapasa‘s foot and he realized it bore the face of a man. From this dream image, Kapasa began creating this sculpture in the shape of a man. After a while, Ced‘art Tamasala joined him and together they transformed the figure into a woman. Since they believe that a man‘s fertility only becomes visible in the womb of a woman, it made more sense to focus on a female shape. Integral to CATPC is that seeds from plants should be shared to nourish the Sacred Forest. To be able to share, you must think with your mind and heart. This connection, by our dear departed colleague, Thomas Leba, is also called luyalu.

We should not think with our brains alone. If we think with our hearts, we will act with solidarity and kindness. The power of the heart and the intelligence of the mind can work together to forge the generosity to share seeds with everyone.

‚There are some people on the post-plantation who do not want to work. This sculpture shows how one of them has been caught by the master because his feet are unsoiled by dirt. The master wants to reprimand him, but instead gives him tools to be able to work properly. Here, the master represents the CAPC community, which ensures that rules are being followed. Recently, the collective elected a committee to keep track of all work on the post-plantation. The committee is now responsible for checking that those who come to the post-plantation contribute.

When someone is spotted not working, overseers approach them slowly to catch them by surprise. They then give them a task to complete with others. This matter concerns the fruit of the plantation, its income and CAPC‘s finances. In reality, there isn‘t just one leader; everyone jointly embodies this master of the plantation.‘

‚We see a creature with wings and two heads that seems to want to fly away. The two heads represent a couple, a woman and a man. The small head is that of a man who has fallen very ill, while the other is that of a woman who must care for him and the family alone. This is, in fact, the story of the artist, Mbuku Kimpala.

After her husband fell sick, she assumed all responsibility. This portrayal of a woman in charge counters the more traditional image of a Congolese family. They are in the midst of flying away together. One of the woman‘s knees is bent, representing the burden of a sick family member.‘

‚A man sits on a box to which he appears to be shackled. Bald, dressed in a suit and wearing glasses, he sticks out his tongue. He wears a defiant posture to conceal that he has found himself in a tricky situation. Jérémie Mabiala and Djonga Bismar, who created this work together, say it shows a man rich in money and possessions who faces a choice: whether to share his wealth - an option symbolized by the vines and flowers that twine around him - or to keep it for himself - as suggested by the snake stretching out its tongue. The work is a message to everyone who has the means to buy CATPC‘s sculptures.‘

‚A bull is mounted by the art collector who holds it by the horns and tail as if to control it, but to no avail: the animal is mad with rage and charges at full speed. The bull represents the sacred works that have been plundered and imprisoned in art institutions. He who mounts the bull represents the power of the institutions that try to contain something they do not understand and rarely respect.‘

‚This story of the art collector is a parable of Jesus. A rich young man asks Jesus how he can inherit the kingdom of heaven. Jesus tells him that if he wants to guarantee his entry into heaven, he must sell everything he has and share it with the poor. The rich young man surveys all his wealth and becomes fearful of losing it. He tries to force himself to get rid of it but is unable. So, he chooses an alternative. He follows Jesus‘s words: „He who is worthy of me must take up his cross, climb up on the cross with Jesus, die and rise with him.“ To rid himself of his sins of imposing monoculture agriculture and destroying the land, he decides to be crucified. After his death, he is resurrected along with the post-plantation. Monoculture agriculture is replaced with biodiversity. This too, must be the path of Unilever, its offshoots, and all those who are cultivating monoculture plantations today. They must end monoculture to be reborn with the post-plantation.‘

‚This is the White Cube of Lusanga crowned by the Pende sculpture of Balot intermingled with sacred sculptures that were looted during the colonial era and imprisoned in white cubes in the North. Different chapters of Lusanga‘s history are narrated across the building‘s four façades: from the era of Leverville to the era of the post-plantation. The left façade depicts the violent history of palm oil extraction. Labourers climb up tall palm oil trees with machetes to cut down nuts. A fire at the base prevents them from descending before having cut enough.

The harvested nuts are being transported to the factory, which throws a shadow of dark smoke over a church in the background, polluting the rest of the landscape as well.

The ensuing destruction of nature follows on the back wall. Trees are cut down and the land becomes dry. Famine and poverty increase.

We also see the conception of CATPC: the production of art and the launching of a tree nursery. On the right wall, the post-plantation continues to flourish: the seedlings become trees, monoculture gradually transforms into a sacred forest and the trees start to bloom:

In the window, one can see a woman giving birth to a baby. On the front façade, the post-plantation is in peak form, the trees abundant with fruit. A group of sculptures is leaving the white cube, with Balot standing in the doorway, facing the public.‘

Photos: Peter Tijhuis

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CATPC

CATPC is the Congolese Plantation Workes Art League (Cercle d‘art des travailleurs de plantation congolaise), a cooperative organization inspired by a long-term project by the Dutch artist Renzo Martens. CATPC has set itself the goal of making a way out of the hardly paid plantation work through its own agriculture, but above all through considerable artistic projects by the local community. Current and former members and interns of CATPC are Djonga Bismar, Matthieu Kilapi Kasiama, Ced'art Tamasala, Mbuku Kimpala, Manenga Kibuila, Jérémie Mabiala, Emery Muhamba, Irène Kanga, Daniel Muvunzi, Jean Kawata, Blaise Mandefu, Thomas Leba (†), Huguette Kilembi, Olele Mulela, Richard Leta, Mira Meya, Tantine Mukundu, Athanas Kindendie, Charles Leba, Philomene Lembusa and Désiré Kapasa. Over the years CATPC have had meaningful solo and group exhibitions at institutions such as The Withworth, Manchester (2023), Kunsthal Charlottenburg Biennial, Copenhagen (2023), Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam (2023), 22nd Biennial of São Paulo (2023), SCCA, Tamale (2022) and in the SculptureCenter, New York City (2017). In 2024 they will, together with Renzo Martens, represent the Netherlands at the 60th Venice Biennial in 2024.



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