Bodys Isek Kingelez (1948-2015) was born in the rural village of Kimbembele-Ihunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then the Belgian Congo). Growing up with eight siblings in a family of agricultural laborers, he began his life as a teacher. In 1978, Kingelez abandoned this profession thanks to the realization that he wanted to contribute, in his own way, to the fight for a decolonised Africa. The artist recounts:
‘I combined all my efforts so that Africa would always be heard. I had the conviction to find the best way of obtaining my objectives, and so I began a repertoire of ideas within the little room I was living in at that time. Then, for about a month, I went through a troubled and vague period and it was at that moment that I was overcome with an almost obsessive desire to pick up a pair of scissors, a Gillette razor, glue and paper.'
Kingelez was working during an era of tremendous change. Straddled between colonial and post-colonial periods, he used his work to envision a forward-thinking, peaceful and prosperous future, untainted by economic disparity. His political engagement continually manifests itself in his sculptures.
The artist used brightly coloured commercial packaging and commonplace materials, such as milk cartons, bottle caps and razors, to create utopian worlds complete with dream-like pavilions, skyscrapers, pagodas and even completely original constructions. The artist’s cityscapes are flamboyant and fantastical metropolises; worlds where racial and geopolitical barriers come tumbling down. Kingelez’s 'extreme maquettes' echo the physicality of the industrialized city that he grew up in. His vibrant yet orderly cities reflect the impact of Space Race-influenced Soviet architecture on a newly post-colonial Africa as well as the Art Deco buildings of colonial times. Kinshasa presented Kingelez with a patchwork of structural and design inspiration.
The present lot references the looming skycrapers of the city of Seattle; the artist saw skyscrapers as an inescapable reality of modern life. The bursts of colour differentiate the structure from any other municipal building we recognize. Kingelez offers an optimistic alternative to his experience of urban living, inviting the viewer to join his idealistic world with the phrase ‘Well Come to Seattle’ written on the façade. Kingelez uses a bright blue to highlight the unusual flame-like shape of the building, adding movement to this otherwise static construction. This sculpture embodies Kingelez’s playful approach to design.
Works by Kingelez can be found in many prominent private collections and have been featured in numerous key international exhibitions such as Beauté Congo at the Foundation Cartier (Paris), African Art Now: Masterpieces from the Jean Pigozzi Collection at the Museum of Fine Art Houston (2005) and the traveling Africa Remix Contemporary Art of a Continent (2004).
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Beauté Congo, Fondation Cartier, Paris, 2015-2016, p. 253
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