S otheby’s is proud to present a selection of four unseen works by rising star Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga, one of the most exciting young artists working today. These tour de force works are the latest addition to the artist’s Ghost of the Present series, which debuted in London at the October Gallery in 2021.
For this, his fourth and latest series, Kamuanga examines the legacy of Catholic missions, sent to the country at the onset of the colonial intervention. The Jesuit missionaries, who first arrived in the country in 1893, established various chapel farms. Ostensibly, these spaces served as semi-autonomous communities, providing shelters for orphaned or displaced children and families, designed to convert locals to Christianity. In reality, they were engine-rooms for colonial exploitation, with many children receiving military training, engaging in agricultural labour, or producing handicrafts. Kamuanga explores this history by creating his own sanctuaries, employing the series’ signature motif–hollowed, patterned red bricks– to create spaces of respite within each composition. Kamuanga curates each composition to include objects of religious and cultural significance. Each work thus offers a unique and carefully crafted narrative, exploring the effects of the religious and political imposition which accompanies the colonial project.
This exhibition is in collaboration with October Gallery, London.
‘These portrayals are simply life studies of the inhabitants of the chaotic city full of phantoms and dead souls, where I live. I was born in Kinshasa, grew up there, and I’ve been swamped by it all my life. These paintings portray a place stewed in corruption and exploitation that brims over with life, laughter and unanticipated bursts of joy. How do you explain that?’
Juxtaposition is a central artistic device employed in Kamuanga’s oeuvre. The artist’s compositions borrow equally from tradition and modernity, with his figures depicted in dramatic poses one might find in a work by Caravaggio, the figures themselves abstracted in a manner only seen in twentieth and twenty-first century art history. Kamuanga’s microchip-etched figures, their skin flattened, highly graphic, and devoid of tonal variation, also sharply contrast with the exceptionally rendered drapery of the Dutch wax cloth fabrics which adorn their bodies. Developed as a reference to the abundance of coltan in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an ore crucial to the production of microchips used in smartphones, the artist’s motif serves as a commentary on the destruction of many local settlements and villages in pursuit of this ore, and the struggle to maintain cultural praxis associated with a bygone pre-colonial age in the face of an increasingly technological world. His first series, Mangbetu, for which the artist earned initial widespread acclaim in the West, makes this tension between tradition and modernity explicit in its reference to Lipombo, a tradition of head elongation practiced by the Mangbetu people, an ethnic group in the North Eastern part of the country. By depicting his futuristic microchipped figures with elongated heads, Kamuanga places the Lipombo tradition in direct contention with the connotations of technological progress induced by the skin of his figures, offering a representation of a Congo which is struggling to retain its indigenous cultural and social values amid unprecedented technological progress.
Exhibition On View in London
Sotheby’s London, 34–35 New Bond Street, Devonshire Gallery
8–14 October 2022
8 October | 12:00 PM-5:00 PM
9 October | 1:00 PM–5:00 PM
10 October| 9:00 AM–5:00 PM
11 October| 9:00 AM–5:00 PM
12 October| 9:00 AM–5:00 PM
13 October| 9:00 AM–5:00 PM
14 October | 9:00 am–12:00 PM
This exhibition is free and unticketed.