Lumumba in painting: Active memory

Three famous painters of Congolese art have used Lumumba as a subject for their paintings. The first painter is Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu. However, he died, most likely during an uprising in 1981. The second important painter is more contemporary. His name is Kolongi. The third one that has depicted Lumumba is the painter Sapin Makengele, more commonly known as Sapin. We will look more closely at Tshibumba and Sapin. A comparison between the two shows multiple similarities. One of these similarities is the true to nature depiction of the last photos of Lumumba in both their paintings.[i] This is very interesting because what is left of Lumumba in a physical was is not that much accept some pictures that were taken from him in the period 1960-1961. To better understand this, we need to understand the concept of active memory.

Active Memory

Active memory is perhaps best described by Mary and Allen Roberts, the first of which sadly passed away a few years ago.[ii] To this extent they introduce the concept of future perfect, or that which ‘will have been’.[iii] Meaning that this memory is subject to ongoing progress. To clarify this Roberts and Roberts state that ‘memory is neither universal nor monolithic’ and must be ‘perceived’ within certain points in certain cultures. To this extent they claim that in at least three categories of Congolese artistic expression; ‘memory is perceived as an active, performative process’.[iv] This means is something that be negotiated and can be subject to a creative process, to which they refer to the Congolese philosopher Valentin Mudimbe who describes history from the perspective of the present. To which we legends are created, which is the perception of history from the present. He also says, according to Roberts and Roberts that memory that is always in the present.[v] This may help us understand why in most Congolese tradition memory is not just a passive collection of information that is not forgotten of the past.


Lumumba, in this instance becomes a half-being.[vi] This means there exists both the living hero Lumumba, in the period between 1960 and 1960 as we can remember, preform historical research on and place within the context of the Congo crisis. The ‘other Lumumba’ is the active use of the hero Lumumba as a function to deal with the past. Lumumba takes the form of the ‘in between’.

This is in the case of Lumumba illustrated by Nooter Roberts and Roberts with the help of Tshibumba, in which Lumumba acts as a mediator.[vii]An expert and associate of Tshibumba is Johannes Fabian. Besides interviewing Tshibumba, he has also written extensively on the way in which we should look at history, when looking at Congolese remembrance.[viii]

Heroes can in their function as legend within active memory be used and actively reconstructed, as a continuous process.[ix] This means that Lumumba is used by others for their relation to the past, which is not necessarily that which can originally be contributed to Lumumba.

Want to read further?
Lumumba as a symbol for Pan-Africanism

Also read:
Presenting Patrice Lumumba: an Introduction

Lumumba the Political-Actor

Lumumba and art

Lumumba: Reflection

Lumumba: Bibliography

[i] See: Painting of Sapin on this website ( and Tshibumba on in the collection of the Tropenmuseum (

[ii] Nooter Roberts, M., and Roberts, A. (1999). Anticipation and Longing: Congolese Culture Heroes Past, Present and Future. In Bogumil Jewsiewicki et al. (eds) A Congo Chronicle: Patrice Lumumba in Urban Art. New York, 93-107.

[iii] Nooter Roberts and Roberts (1999), ‘Anticipation and longing’, 94.

[iv] Ibidem.

[v] Idem, 95.

[vi] Idem, 100.

[vii] Idem, 101.

[viii] Johannes Fabian (1996), Remembering the present: painting and popular history in Zaire


[ix] Nooter Roberts and Roberts (1999), ‘Anticipation and longing’, 94.