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Accepted Paper:

More Than Shadows: Freddy Tsimba’s "nkisi logic" in Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa  
Elaine Sullivan (University of Johannesburg)

Paper short abstract:

Congolese artist Freddy Tsimba’s installation “Shadows” does more than “cast a shadow” on Belgian colonial memories; it acts as a contemporary nkisi figure to honor and house the spirits of the dead. While nodding to archival absences, the shadows are also potential locations of presence and action.

Paper long abstract:

When Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa reopened to the public in 2018 after five years of renovation, the institution highlighted newly commissioned artworks by contemporary Congolese artists as examples of its new “focus on decolonization.” One such example is Freddy Tsimba’s “Shadows,” installed in the so-called “Memorial Hallway,” originally built in 1934 in remembrance of Belgians who had died in Congo. Opposite the original wall of names, Tsimba had the names of Congolese who died in Belgium etched onto the windows. When the sun shines, the names case shadows on the memorial wall.

For Tsimba, theses shadows are not just letters on glass, but rather locations meant to contain the spirits of those who had died. In this paper, I explore how the artist is using what Roberts and Jewsiewicki (2016) have termed “nkisi logic,” echoing the logic of Congolese nkisi figures, power-objects created to attract and hold spirits which can be called on to act. In this instance, the form of the shadow is less important than its content. As a negative form, the shadow also signals absences: the research to identify Congolese who died in Belgium during the colonial era is ongoing, and the numbers who died In Congo during that time are so ungraspable that estimates vary by millions of people. Further, while names may be linked to individuals, they are not necessarily linked to individual bodies. Indeed, according to Tsimba, they should be understood to stand for the many unnamed victims of Belgian colonization.

Panel Arts13
Negative forms and future genres in African photographs, museums and art
  Session 1 Wednesday 31 May, 2023, -