53 Echoes of Zaire: Popular Painting from Lubumbashi, DRC

Popular Painting is a genre traceable to the 1920s, which chronicles contemporary social and political realities
in Congo (then Zaïre)

This art movement remains very little known outside the continent. Scholars have dedicated their research
activities to Popular Painting. They often knew the main actors of the movement in the early 1970s, and
shared this knowledge by publishing articles, books and exhibition catalogues. Victor Bol was one of them,
along with Johannes Fabian, Dibwe wia Mwembu, Bogumil Jewsiewicki, Paul Faber and others.

“ During a brief period between the late sixties and the late seventies, popular genre painting bloomed in
the urban and industrial Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (called, respectively, Shaba
and Zaire when research was conducted). Scores of artists, most of them self-educated, produced thousands
of paintings (acrylics or oils on canvas reclaimed from flour sacking) for local use. Through a limited number
of recurrent topics, they articulated a system of shared memories. They recalled ancestral origins, colonial
history, the fight for independence, post-colonial struggles for power, and the predicaments of urban African
life. Several painters began to represent sequences of historical events, foremost among them Tshibumba
Kanda Matulu who thought of himself as a historian.“ Fabian, 1998

Tshibumba Kanda Matulu was born in 1947 in Lubumbashi in the very south of what was then Belgian Congo.
His wish was to become a teacher, but he eventually had to find another way of teaching history to his fellow
countrymen.

“From this disappointed ambition Tshibumba retained a lively intellectual curiosity, and an undying wish to
find out about both ancient traditions and also more recent events.” (Victor Bol (in McGonagle, 1990)
In the mid-1960s he started training himself to paint and practiced painting as a profession from 1969. In his
works, Tshibumba depicts the present and the past through his own eyes, gives an account of Zairian history,
from precolonial times to the early 1970s.

Tshibumba’s last paintings date from 1981. Various efforts to contact him in the ensuing years have proven
fruitless. There is good reason to believe he is dead, a victim of the tragic history of his homeland.
“Tshibumba’s history is a popular one that is at times idiosyncratic and at times in line with shared popular
understandings, and there are numerous instances where it digresses from official historical timelines,
both state-sponsored propaganda and academic accounts. In Remembering the Present, Fabian chose to
let Tshibumba’s timeline take precedence and included copious historical footnotes to indicate possible
divergences from the official story part history part imagination” (Moyer, 2004)


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