A safe and enjoyable museum visit for everyone

Plastic is Fantastic: Dystopias, Collections and Partial World views.

Bambi Ceuppens

1. On Dystopia and Millenarianism

Next year will mark the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’ Utopia, but currently, utopian visions seem thin on the ground, at least in Western Europe. Instead, dystopian visions of a “Big Brother” society or one overrun by Muslim terrorists abound across the political spectrum. Thomas Piketty paints a dystopian vision of capitalist society in which the rich will only get richer, catapulting us straight back to a 19th century Dickensian society without the belly laughs. Other prominent scholars, including Stephen Hawking, paint a similar pessimistic view of the future, with Artificial Intelligence threatening millions of jobs in the short run and robots, with their superior intelligence, turning against the humans who created them in the long run. At this year’s Venice Biennale, the mood is equally dystopian:
One hundred years after the first shots of the First World War were fired in 1914, and seventy-five years after the beginning of the Second World War in 1939, the global landscape again lies shattered and in disarray, scarred by violent turmoil, panicked by specters of economic crisis and viral pandemonium, secessionist politics and a humanitarian catastrophe on the high seas, deserts, and borderlands, as immigrants, refugees, and desperate peoples seek refuge in seemingly calmer and prosperous lands. Everywhere one turns new crisis, uncertainty, and deepening insecurity across all regions of the world seem to leap into view http://www.labiennale.org/en/art/exhibition/enwezor/.

All the World’s Futures does not have one overriding theme, but is informed by three intersecting filters: liveliness (on epic duration); garden of disorder; and capital, which curator Okwui Enwezor, calls “the great drama of our age.” In his 1891 essay, The Soul of Man under Capitalism, Oscar Wilde had also identified capitalism as the problem of his age without ever mentioning it as such, but he remained optimistic about the future: “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing it, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias” (Wilde 1994: 1184).
By contrast, Enwezor has taken Utopia off the map. He reminds us that the original Persian concept of garden perceived of it as paradise and suggests that the Giardini where the Biennale takes place should be read “as the ultimate site of a disordered world, of national conflicts, as well as territorial and geopolitical disfigurations” http://www.labiennale.org/en/art/exhibition/enwezor/.

If Enwezor’s vision on the state of the world is somber, he has come into sharp criticism from a number of art critics who consider it impossible to question capitalism within the context of an art exhibition like the Biennale:
The proximity of the biennial circuit to the art market is a complication that art loves to occupy but one that bankrolled curators and artists usually love to ignore. As the overflow of the Biennale into marketing efforts demonstrates, much of contemporary art is first and foremost positioned as a luxury asset, a branded commodity fed by inequality, and only secondarily a vehicle for the expression of culture or contemplation of the future http://www.vulture.com/2015/05/why-is-the-2015-venice-biennale-so-out-of-date.html.
In other words, if humankind is screwed, we should not turn to artists for a way out, since they are part of the problem and therefore cannot be part of the solution.

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the mood was very different—or does it only seem so in retrospect? Francis Fukuyama wrote a short essay, The End of History, in which he painted a glorious future for western liberal democracy: “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government (Fukuyama 1989).” In 1992, the American president George H.W. Bush was convinced that the defeat of Saddam Hussein would mark the beginning of a new world order (an expression which he did not invent), characterized by peace, security, freedom and the rule of law.

That mood of optimism was short lived. In 1994, the creation of a democratic, post-Apartheid South Africa as the “Rainbow Nation” seemed to herald a new dawn for the African continent, but that very same year, the Rwandan genocide claimed the lives of some 800,000 people. This indirectly paved the way for the two Congo wars or the first African world war, the bloodiest conflict of the 20th century after the World War Two. On 9 September 2001, al-Qaeda launched four coordinated attacks on the United Sates. In 2003, a coalition led by the American president, President George W. Bush, and the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, invaded Iraq and disposed Saddam Hussein in the hope that the creation of a liberal democracy in Iraq would spread like an oil stain throughout the region. Instead, Iraq became a powder keg. The failed transition, combined with the civil wars in Libya and Syria after the failing of the Arab Spring created IS. The combination of the Libyan and Syrian civil wars and the ongoing poverty and conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa have led to mass migratory movements towards Europe, which finds itself confronted with the largest waves of immigrants since World War Two.

The current global economic crisis fundamentally questions the superiority of the capitalist system that is central to liberal democracy. Establishing a connection between that crisis and the US’s invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the fall of the Twin Towers, Stéphane Hessel argues that, from 2001 onwards, “the forces of finance became stronger than international law’ (Gregos 2012: 105). The European welfare state is under threat, as the European Union considers austerity the only way out of the global economic crisis, leaving the Greek economy is in meltdown. According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the number of migrants trying to reach Europe poses a far greater threat to the European Union than the Greek economy. Leoluca Orlando, the mayor of the Sicilian capital Palermo, has blasted European leaders for failing to prevent thousands of migrants drawing in the Mediterranean and warned that European selfishness is causing genocide on its shores. In the face of these crises, the European project increasingly seems like a failed utopia. (Only this morning, I read in my Flemish newspaper that Bob Pleysier—with a name like that, one seems destined to be an eternal optimist—former director of the Belgian Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum-Seekers, proposes that the European Union create a Eutopia in Northern Africa: a megalopolis for all the thousands of refugees who try to reach Europe from Africa by crossing the Mediterranean [Pleysier 2015]).

In the meantime, an economic crisis with possible worldwide implications is brewing in China, a look at the map shows that there are ongoing conflicts in much of the world, inequality grows spectacularly, a new scramble for Africa is underway, the icecaps continue to melt as the climate keeps warming up, biodiversity decreases at a frightening rate, the bee population is under threat, plastic debris clutters the ocean and enters into the marine food chain with dangerous consequences… Practically anyone with an interest in ecology paints a pessimistic millenarian future vision of the type that used to crop up in Western Europe at the turn of each century. More than a decade into the 21st century, many West-Europeans seem convinced that the world is going to hell in a basket case, with some thinking that humanity can only avoid a planetary disaster by leaving earth and settling somewhere else in the Milky Way. We appear no longer afraid of Martians invading the earth; instead, for some, travel to Mars has never seemed more attractive. In the face of such gloomy future prospects Citoyen du Monde by Meschac Gaba, at the entrance of the exhibition Global Imaginations in the Meelfabriek seems wildly utopian. It is, however, an exception. A number of other works on display are more in line with popular doom scenarios: Rivane Neuenschwander shows ants eating up the globe, Lucy and Jorge Orta’s installation OrtaWater – Purification Factory warns visitors about the global water shortage, while the title of Batoul S’Himi’s work World under pressure is self-explanatory. These works do little to challenge what has by now become the conventional wisdom that time is running out for saving the world. That is a pity because if “art per se might not be able to effect change in the world … its great power is … that it is able to change the way people think about the world” (Gregos 2012: 31, original emphasis). To my mind, the best artists do not do so by simply confirming widely held opinions, setting out to prove something or actively try to change viewers’ behaviour, but rather by encouraging them to think and letting them come to their conclusions. A number of works rise to this challenge, by going beyond a simplistic doom scenario. They include Raqs Media Collective’s installation Fever Fever, Femke Herregraven’s computer game Taxodus, Taryn Simon’s Image Atlas and Pascale Marthine Tayou’s Plastic Bags. I found the latter work the most poetic, profound and multi layered and also the most inspirational when it came to writing this essay.

While at first sight, the plastic bags tell a story about environmental destruction, on a deeper level, Tayou draws our attention to the millions of refugees who leave their country behind, taking little more than a plastic bag containing their possessions with them. We do not know how most of these refugees envisage the current state of the world as a whole or the world’s future. But we do know that many of them are willing to leave their homes and their loved ones behind, to travel for thousands of miles, to risk their lives and often that of their children, in the hope of finding a better life elsewhere. In 2012, artist Wanja Kimani who herself moved from Kenya to Ethiopia created a video called Utopia, in which a future female citizen explains her reasons for migrating to a country where “even babies don’t cry, because there is nothing to complain about” to a governmental agent of the fictitious country of Utopia (Yemsi 2014: 10). Perhaps those who have little or nothing to lose still harbour dreams of a Utopia in the near future whereas those who are well off can easier afford to invest in long-term dystopian perspectives.

Plastic Bags invites us to reflect on the question of how to measure short-term goals versus long-term ones. To what extent do the damned of the earth really have the choice, not to say the luxury, to sacrifice their short-term goal for better lives for themselves and their families for the long-term goal of preserving the earth for their grand-children and great-grandchildren? Do we want them to passively wait for the apocalypse without even trying to better their lives and do we condemn them for taking a plastic bag with their belongings along while doing so?

Watching this work of art, I was reminded of the complexities of plastic usage in the DRC. The Congolese tropical forest is under threat because, in the absence of gas and electricity, people have no choice but to cook by using charcoal. Under the circumstances, one could argue that the ubiquity of plastic chairs is a good thing since, if Congolese were to cut trees to make furniture as well, there would hardly be any rainforest left by now. Or, to give another example: encouraging people to drink tap water instead of bottled water may be an environmentally sound advice in the West, but puts people’s health at risk in large parts of the South. The streets of the DRC’s major cities are strewn with plastic water bags whose prolific use is obviously damaging the environment. But can we demand people who have to move around under the tropical sun on foot or in cars and public transport without air conditioning to become dehydrated in the absence of fountains with drinking water? Do we seriously expect the downtrodden of the earth to sacrifice their lives for the greater good of the planet, when generally speaking, Northern lifestyles pose a much bigger threat to the environment than theirs and Northerners have lifestyle choices as consumers that they can ill afford? It is too easy for those in the North who invest in “fair trade” in the South to take the higher moral ground vis-à-vis those in the South who are forced to accept that their countries are used as dumping grounds for toxic waste from the North.

Plastic Bags reminds us that we must take into consideration that we are not all equal in the face of a global catastrophe and that some of us are more guilty of it than others. If it is true that we are all aboard the Titanic and about to crash into an iceberg, a minority is travelling on the upper first class deck, meeting their final destiny in style because they are safely protected from the great unwashed below deck. “[T]hose who dwell inside the grimy citadels of overdevelopment must acknowledge the way their fates are connected to the lives of the people in the global South, whose misery and insecurity conditions post-scarcity plenitude and security” (Gilroy 2008: 122, cited in Gregos 2012: 27). This insight is missing from those installations by Mona Hatoum, Rivane Neuenschwander, Tintin Wulia and Chen Zhen which feature maps of the world (often the Mercator projection, which erroneously represent the North as nearly twice as big as the South) or a globe (Chen Zhen) in order to hammer home the point that we are all in this together.

We are told all too often that it takes little but a change in our lifestyles in order to bring about major societal changes. This idea is inspired by the notion of free consumer choice and is central to the optimistic counterargument against millenarianism. In Global Imaginations it is represented in the installations of the Orta’s (see above), Brook Andrew, Simryn Gill and Tintin Wulia. While dealing with different subjects, they all invite the visitor to engage and interact in a truly participatory way, albeit it, in the case of Brook Andrew and Tintin Wulia, under the guidance of an exhibition employee. As such, they foster the illusion that individuals can make a real difference. In reality, visitors’ interventions in the exhibition are free of engagement. I can refuse to jump on Andrew’s Jumping Castle War Memorial, but such a refusal, even if inspired by an awareness of the ongoing injustice done to Aboriginals and other colonised peoples for whom I am far from indifferent, will do nothing to bring about a major change in the societies in question. It could be tempting to see a refusal to jump as a mark of respect, where it not for the fact that most adult visitors never jump on jumping castles to start with and are not expected to do so in an exhibition on contemporary art. The idea that each of us has the power to bring about change (“Yes, we can!”) is steeped in a neoliberal worldview whose refusal to acknowledge global inequalities erroneously leads it to equate the total sum of all individual actions with the social and economic power structure. In an unequal global society, the actions of a small minority may have a far bigger impact than those of the majority of the world’s population. Nor should we be naïve about the nature and power of democracy. Indeed, the argument has been made that the global economic crisis has revealed that democracy is in crisis insofar that democratically elected governments have no control on the economy but have in fact been taken hostage by a rapacious financial industry that obeys only its own rules. In addition, capitalism, industrialisation, abolitionism, modernism, parliamentary democracy, universal suffrage, decolonisation, feminism, space travel, the abolishment of the death penalty, ecology, neoliberalism, the internet, and other major changes, be they positive or negative, were not globally brought about by popular demand or the ballot paper. Going by these examples, it seems likelier that global democracy will one day result from such a major upheaval than that it will ever instigate such a profound change.

2 On Global Worldviews and Collecting

On the exhibition website we read that Global Imaginations was curated at the occasion of the 440th anniversary of Leiden University whose scholars, alone or in collaboration with artists, have long tried to understand the world by creating maps, botanic drawings, diagrams and symbols, while museum curators have brought together objects pertaining to what have become the domains of antiquities, natural history, ethnography, art history and history. According to the curators, all these creations can be considered material manifestations of mental worldviews, a concept which they fail to define and which is not as innocent as it may sound to those who are not aware of the endless academic debates on it. By showing a kaleidoscope of contemporary artistic worldviews, the exhibition is said to dovetail with Leiden’s long cosmopolitan tradition as a university city.

There are a number of problems with this statement that I would like to address with reference to the essays in the virtual catalogue. These have a clear focus on collections, in relation to the creation and evolution of Leiden’s university and museums. University and museum collections played an important part in the classification of the world’s cultures and societies and by extension in the ways in which these were put on display in museum exhibitions. This focus is diluted in the exhibition and I am not sure that visitors who have not read the essays before coming to the Meelfabriek will grasp the link. Having said that, it probably says a very great deal about myself as an anthropologist working in a former colonial museum that I would have preferred the exhibition to engage more directly with the Leiden museum collections.

We do not know to what extent the artists whose works are represented are representative of the societies from which they hail or in which they live (for many, the two do not coincide), of the ways in which artists throughout the world represent our contemporary world or of the sex and generation to which they belong (almost half of all artists represented are female, the average age is 49). That does not constitute a problem insofar that in the Western art tradition we do not judge works of art on the basis of their societal representation, but on the basis of their individuality and uniqueness. However, the question of representativeness becomes interesting when the connection with museum collections is made explicit. The transformation of the old curiosity cabinets into full-blown museums, in particular colonial and natural history museums, was driven by a mania for representativeness, i.e. the goal to bring all natural and cultural phenomena together under a single roof.

The curators clearly did not strive for this outdated type of representativeness. But in exhibitions on contemporary art as in old, colonial museums, the choices of curators often tell us a great deal more about themselves than about the works they collect(ed) and/or exhibit(ed), the person(s) who created them and/or those who first used them or attributed meaning to them. But whereas 19th century museums were never shy about their aims and worldviews and references to worldviews abound on the exhibition website, the curators of Global Imaginations remain silent on their own. While some works existed before the exhibition, others were commissioned, but it remains unclear what drove the curators’ choices, how they engage with the global world and reflect upon it. Independent of the quality of the works displayed in the exhibition, I think that Global Imaginations would have profited greatly from a more explicit concept and a sharper focus. Mark Dion’s installation, inspired by the collections of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, criticises the paradigm that created it, but does not try to answer the pressing question: how are museums supposed to deal with these historical collections in this day and age when our relations to the natural world and to the world’s cultures have changed so profoundly? Since many collections in Leiden were put together in an imperialist context, there are interesting connections to be made between the idea of an exhibition on global imaginations with art works made by artists from all over the world and the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden, now part of the new National Museum for World Cultures, that shows collections from all over the world, with the exception of Europe. Like other European museums for world cultures, it thus posits itself as looking at the world as if it is not itself a part of it. By not being explicit about their own worldview and choices, the curators likewise give the impression that they are neutral, objective observers of the international art scene who simply selected a number of art works on the basis of neutral, objective criteria.

The idea that by showing a kaleidoscope of contemporary artistic worldviews, the exhibition dovetails with Leiden’s long cosmopolitan tradition as a university town jars precisely because it seems to suggest that throughout Leiden’s long university and museum history, all its scholars and curators had a similar detached, neutral and objective worldview. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tim Ingold describes well the ways in which the double meaning of the culture-concept created and reinforced a sharp difference between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. He describes “a cultured person” as one who “is supposed to be one well-versed in science, literature and the arts, one in whom reason and knowledge have been cultivated to a high degree”. By contrast, the person who “lives in culture” is “condemned to a life of traditional monotony, to be imprisoned in one's thoughts by belief and superstition, and in one's actions by customary routine”. He concludes: The man (sic) in a culture thus appears as the very opposite of the cultured man, for the latter, in reaching for enlightenment, claims to have liberated himself from the shackles of tradition that hold the former in suspended animation. ... we are cultured and they are not because they live in a culture and we do not. … Like works of art, their ways of life become objects of contemplation for us, but not vice versa, since we are the spectators in the gallery of human variety, whereas they are the figures in the pictures. In effect, the concept of culture operates as a distancing device, setting up a radical disjunction between ourselves, rational observers of the human condition, and those other people, enmeshed in their traditional patterns of belief and practice, whom we profess to observe and study (1993: 212).
Within the context of an imperialist society, worldviews such as these were far from innocent or ‘cosmopolitan’; they could and did directly impact upon human life-words, shaping, changing and even destroying many in the process. Brook Andrew’s installation can be read as an example of this.

In her installation Paper Boats, Simryn Gill questions the connections between imperialism, power and knowledge through the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It is possible that many visitors will fail to get this message and simply interpret it as referring to virtual encyclopedias such as Wikipedia (and the internet in general) having made paper encyclopedias obsolete. There is obviously nothing wrong with an artistic work lending itself to multiple interpretations, but if the curators had been more explicit about the choices they have made, visitors would have been more actively encouraged to look at the art works on display in different ways.

Plastic floats in the river Kalamu near l'avenue Bongolo in Kalamu, Kinshasa.
Plastic floats in the river Kalamu near l'avenue Bongolo in Kalamu, Kinshasa. Photo: Radiookapi/Innocent Olenga
Le plastique fantastique
Le plastique fantastique

3 On the Limits of Representing the Global World

Questioning western collecting practices, Georges Adéagbo turns the tables by creating idio-syncratic installations, consisting of odd bits and pieces and objects that he can find or cheaply acquire in situ, adding objects with reference to his own cultural background. I was given a visited guide to Global Imaginations with a Dutch journalist and I was rather amused that he kept on asking the guide how Adéagbo had gone about putting together the objects with an aim to represent Dutch society and how many time he had spent in the Netherlands as if wanting to question or doubt his ability to give a ‘right’ representation, for this is not a question that many West-Europeans ask when visiting ethnographic museums with objects from the South. The journalist’s questions reminded me of a book on the Royal Museum for Central Africa where I work, in which Maarten Couttenier describes how Joseph Maes, during an expedition undertaken in what was then the Belgian Congo in 1913 only spent a few hour in each village:
“’Mister Maes quickly did the rounds, took some notes, bought some objects and after breakfast, we took our leave.’ Maes noted the geographical origin of each object, with a view to undertake a diffusionist study of the region, but paid scarce attention to in-depth fieldwork. He gathered little information on the social function of objects, despite the fact that he had previously criticized others for failing to do so (Couttenier 2005: 284, my translation).

Adéagbo is one of a number of artists represented in Global Imaginations who “write back” to the former colonial metropoles (cf. Ashcroft et al. 1989) and reverse the ways in which visitors of western art galleries and museums tend to look at “the figures in the pictures”, as Ingold puts it. Romuald Hazoumè and the Ghana Think Tank question the development paradigm that conventionally underscores the North’s relationship with the South, in particular sub-Saharan Africa, and do so in a way that is both playful and thought-provoking. Hazoumé show that many Beninois think that, for all their poverty, they are rich, for they have love which ‘white’ Europeans sadly lack, while the Ghana Think Tank’s installation Monument to the Dutch interrogates the idea of tolerant Dutch society. I was given to understand that a number of Dutch visitors have taken issue with these ‘foreigners’ teaching the Dutch a lesson. If true, this underlines the extent to which many Dutch are still indebted to a colonial worldview and consider their own worldview as the default one.

In addition to the art works by Aédagbo, Hazoumé, the Ghana Think Tank, I must also mention those by Marjolijn Dijkman and Andrea Stultiens, which all highlight the partiality of worldviews. As such, they challenge any attempts to represent, collect and/or control the whole world in all its totality and by extension, the paradigm that created Leiden’s historical museum collections. This dimension is missing in the representations of maps and globes in a number of art works on display which fail to remind the visitor that these are as much attempts to control the world as to represent it faithfully (or even, in an Empire described by Borges, to coincide with it point for point), and that they inevitably fail to do either.

It is possible to have many and very different partial worldviews on the global world, as Borges so amply showed in his fiction, but it is impossible for any individual or collective to represent it in all its diversity and complexity. The whole edifice of colonial classification systems on the basis of ‘race’, ‘tribes’, “ethnographic objects” etc., that fed the colonial collection mania and the evolutionist and diffusionist paradigms that informed them, came crushing down under its own weight: the more scholars tried to delineate and box living human realities in by considering them self-contained, independent wholes, the more they were forced to realise that there is too much mobility, fluidity and ongoing change in human experiences to make any such taxonomic classification possible. If humanity is one, it can only be truly captured by stressing its diversity; ultimately, every single human being is unique. But, again, we should not lose sight of the fact that even if every individual has what one can call an individual worldview, it is always to some extent informed and shaped shared by societal structures. And if we focus too much upon diversity, we risk exotising ‘others’ and in doing so, losing sight of our common humanity. Zooming simultaneously in an out on unity and diversity is precisely one of the challenges that former colonial ethnographic museums, like the National Museum for World Cultures face.

In an exhibition like Global Imaginations, art works that deal with specific cultural practices, contexts and/or partial worldviews can tell us a great deal more about the global condition than those which focus upon the world as a whole, detached from the people who inhabit it and reflect upon it. The most inspiring and thought-provoking art works in the exhibition are those which confront us with different partial worldviews and remind us of the major challenge we all face: we are a single species living on a single planet, facing a common destiny and future, while being separated across geographical distances and by differences in terms of age, caste, class, ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, gender, wealth, worldviews etc.

4 By Way of Conclusion: From Tayou to Borges

If Tayou’s Plastic Bags served as my starting point when writing down my reflections on Global Imaginations, I drew inspiration from the opening paragraph of Borges’ story, The Cruel Redeemer Lazarus Morell Borges when ending it. It can serve as a marvellous refection on imagining the global world, global connections through imperialism and characterized by inequality, the tensions between individual agency and social structures and the often haphazard logic underlying library and museum collections. At the same time, it reflects the partiality and ethnocentricity of worldviews and the extent to which even the greatest artists are influenced and shaped by the society in which they live, even as their creations seem to transcend it:
"In 1517, Fray Bartolomé de la Casas, feeling great pity for the Indians who grew worn and lean in the drudging infernos of the Antillean gold mines, proposed to Emperor Charles V that Negroes be brought to the isles of the Caribbean, so that they might grow worn and lean in the drudging infernos of the Antillean gold mines. To that odd variant on the species philanthropist we owe an infinitude of things: W.C. Handy’s blues; the success achieved in Paris by the Uruguayan attorney-painter Vicente Rossi; the mythological stature of Abraham Lincoln; the half-million dead of the War of Secession; the $3.3 billion spent on military pensions; the statue of the imaginary semblance of Antonio (Falucho) Ruiz; the inclusion of the verb “lynch” in respectable dictionaries; the impetuous King Vidor film Hallelujah; the stout bayonet charge of the regiment of “Blacks and Tans” (the color of their skins, not their uniforms) against that famous hill near Montevideo; the gracefulness of certain elegant young ladies; the black man who killed Martin Fierro; that deplorable rumba The Peanut-Seller; the arrested and imprisoned Napoleonism of Toussaint L’Ouverture; the cross and the serpent in Haiti; the blood of goats whose throats are slashed by the papaloi’s machete; the habanera that is the mother of the tango; the candombe. And yet another thing: the evil and magnificent existence of the cruel redeemer Lazarus Morell." (Borges 1998: 6, original emphasis)

About Bambi Ceuppens

Bambi Ceuppens holds a PhD in Social Anthropology and is a Senior Researcher at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium. In 2010, she curated the exhibition Indépendance! on the 50th anniversary of Congolese independence. Currently, she is preparing an exhibition on Congolese popular painting with artist and photographer Sammy Baloji.


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