A forthcoming exhibition of new works by Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga has been announced by October Gallery, London. This will be the artist’s second exhibition with the gallery following his astonishing inaugural presentation in 2016.
Kamuanga Ilunga is known to explore the shift in the economic, political and social identity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that have taken place since colonialism in his work. Increasingly globalised, yet still devoutly Christian, much of the country completely rejects its multi-ethnic indigenous heritage.
For this new project, Ilunga uses the history of the Kongo Kingdom to reveal the legacy of its leaders and examines the impact this has had on contemporary Congolese society. These new works feature objects such as porcelain used by early Portuguese traders as well as pottery, such as Toby jugs, which later entered the trade routes in the Kongo Kingdom for the trade of slaves. In this body of works, Eddy pays tribute to the slaves and ancestors who resisted this human trafficking by presenting a vision of the socio-political landscape of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In his previous photo series Mangbetu, the Congolese painter paid homage to the warrior culture of the same name whose culture is being threatened by a postcolonial desire to modernise. These people of Sudanese origin live in the eastern province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The last survivors of the Mangbetu culture are today struggling to save their heritage from extinction.
Ilunga first photographed elders and surviving members of the Mangbetu culture. Then, using acrylic and oil on canvass, he painted the elders in circuit board silhouettes, adding distinguishing elements of their culture. Things such as blacksmithing and sculptor’s tools, warrior symbols and extravagant headwear and ornaments are added to reflect elements of their cultural past such as the “elongated heads” which inspire his paintings.
In his paintings, the elongated heads, blacksmith and sculptor tools, architecture and warrior symbols blend with contemporary signs of urban Congolese culture and the circuit board alluring to coltan — which is abundant in the DRC, used in digital technology. The result is a collection of timeless and elegant images, which creates an interesting account of the death and birth of cultures and the factors that bring about these changes.
Born in 1991, Ilunga‘s works usually reflects elements from his hometown in Mangbetu, lives and works in Kinshasa. He has been shown across Africa, notably at Dak’Art; Biennale OFF Senegal in 2014, and as well as London’s 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in 2015 and The Armory Show Focus: African Perspectives in 2016.
His upcoming exhibition, Fragile Responsibility, will be exhibited at October Gallery, London, from 10 May to 16 June.