The relationship between art and history has been a recent topic of scholarly interest in relation to Congolese historiography (Fabian: 1996; Jewsiecki 2003; Turine: 2007; Ceuppens and Baloji: 2016). Within this, a number of works have focused on the tradition of African popular art, and on artists such as Chéri Samba and Pierre Bodo. The study of popular art has grown in recent years, with particular focus on the role of artist as historiographer in the Congo. 

Much of the literature on these interlinking roles has also centred on the artist Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu. Tshibumba was born in 1947 in Elisabethville (Lubumbashi) in the Belgian Congo and disappeared around 1981, believed to have been killed. His paintings, thought to have been produced in the early 1970s, have now become the basis of a number of academic works (Fabian: 1996; Faber and Fabian: 2005). Tshibumba’s work has also been displayed in numerous institutions as part of a collection on the “History of Zaire.”  These paintings form a series of around one hundred works commissioned by the German anthropologist Johannes Fabian, which later came to form the contents of his 1996 work Remembering the Present. Most notably, Tshibumba’s collection ‘History of Zaire‘ was exhibited in 2000 at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. 

The work of Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu has been of significant academic focus due to the forms of written, oral and visual history encompassed within his work. In Remembering the Present, paintings are presented alongside excerpts of interviews with Tshibumba held during the period in which Fabian lived in Lubumbashi, between 1971 and 1976. In 1999, a full transcript of these interviews, including the original Swahili, was published by the Archives of Popular Swahili online. This database gives a full historical account and translation of Tshibumba’s interview series on the History of Zaire. 

Furthermore, recent works have also published excerpts from Tshibumba’s handwritten historical account entitled Histoire du Zaire (1980). Although the work has not been published in its entirety, passages from the journal in which Tshibumba wrote have been translated from French into English and published online (Blommaert: 2004).  In this work, Tshibumba describes himself as ‘l’Artiste / Peintre / Historien’ (Artist, Painter, Historian), as seen below:

(Blommaert: 2004: 12)

In Histoire du Zaire, Tshibumba also writes:

Every country has its history, I believe that every thing has its history as well, Lubumba, Emery Patrice has said it: The history of ZAIRE will be written by a ZAIREAN

(Blommaert: 2004: 14)

Although access is limited only to excerpts of this work, what is available makes clear Tshibumba’s self-conception of his role as an artist within the production of Zairean history. In the same passage, the importance of the act of re-telling is positioned as outweighing the value of exact historical structure (Blommaert: 2004: 15):

More so than a depiction of historical events in art, here we see the development of Tshibumba’s own form of history to accompany his paintings. Tshibumba’s decision to follow his oral narrative in Swahili and his written in French perhaps represents the didactic function of his work which aimed to reach a wide audience. For Fabian (1996: 220), Tshibumba’s interest in constructing a history of the Congo emerged out of his interest in telling the story of his country as both an ethnographer and a historian, as well as a painter. 

In Tshibumba’s collection, the History of Zaire traces the events of Belgian colonialism and the struggle for independence through to the period in which Tshibumba was painting. What is termed the ‘Congo Crisis’ is a subject of a number of paintings and forms a large part of Tshibumba’s accompanying narrative. Within these paintings, the UN is featured in a number of scenes. As this project focuses on this subject, six of Tshibumba’s paintings have been chosen which share connections both to Sapin’s work, and to wider representations of the UN within the crisis. Scenes include the initial appeal to the UN, the death of Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld and the role of UN troops in the Katangan secession. Through examination of these works, connections will be drawn between the role of artist and historian in depictions of Congolese history, with focus on how the UN are represented in parallel and in juxtaposition to ‘traditional’ historical accounts of the Congo Crisis.


 [Next Page…]


All images are copyright of the KIT Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam.