Bodys Isek Kingelez was born in 1948 in the village of Kimbembele Ihunga, Bandundu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo (then Belgian Congo). One of nine children born to agricultural labourers, Kingelez began his working life as a teacher, before abandoning that profession in 1978 to contribute to the fight for a decolonised Africa. Kingelez would spend from 1978 to 1984 working as a restorer at the Musée National de Kinshasa, restoring countless objects and demonstrating an innate skill for the trade.
Bodys Isek Kingelez is remembered for his sprawling utopic architectural landscapes which are heavily inspired by the African mega-city of Kinshasa, the artist’s hometown. He used commonplace materials, from razors to milk cartons, to create meticulously detailed structures depicting dream-like metropolises. From recognisable structures, such as pagodas, pavilions and skyscrapers, to completely original constructions, these works are delicate yet grand, possessing an undeniable joyful vitality.
Known as his 'extreme maquettes', or 'extreme models', these sculptural works reflect the social and economic inequality that came as a result of Kinshasa’s rapid growth and industrialisation. Kingelez saw his models as a service to his community, a means through which to present a more serene and equal world, one which stood in stark contrast to his own. He created works in quick succession after his first sculpture and often labelled his works with titles suggesting administrative or political functions typical of a thriving democratic state.
The colour and vibrancy of Kingelez’s work is owed to his use of packaging and coloured paper on a predominantly monochrome background. His 'extreme maquettes' echo the physicality of the city that he grew up in, reflecting the impact of the Space Race-influenced Soviet architecture within the context of a newly post-colonial Africa. In combination with the preceding Art Deco buildings of colonial times, Kinshasa presented Kingelez with a patchwork of structural and design inspiration.
Works by Kingelez can be found in many prominent private collections and have been featured in several key international exhibitions including, Beauté Congo at the Foundation Cartier, Paris (2015), 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). On view until 1 January 2019, MoMA presents City Dreams, a complete retrospective of Bodys Isek Kingelez’s work. Spanning over three decades of creation, Kingelez’s first retrospective includes a wide breadth of rarely seen works from throughout the artist’s career.
Sarah Suzuki, Bodys Isek Kingelez, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2018-2019, p. 9
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