ata ndele

On paper: tba


"Despite the many outcries by activists in Belgium against colonial monuments, the quasi totality of these stand unaltered in the streets and squares of our cities. A growing number of people call for their removal or, at least, the addition of explanatory signs providing contextual information. None of these two ways of coping with imperialist heritage are in my opinion adequate. The problematic character of these symbols and glorifications of colonialism should be inscribed into the physical appearance of the monument itself, and not in a futile explicatory sign. On the other hand, erasing all traces of Belgium’s violent, racist, imperialistic past would give way to a dangerous kind of damnatio memoriae. But how can one destroy a symbol’s power without erasing the symbol itself? The answer is, of course: by modifying it. But in a very precise way. I argue that these monuments ought to be altered in such a way, that they still operate as symbols – but as symbols questioning themselves. My starting point is the manner in which an anarchist group called the Stoete Ostendenoare has treated a monument to Leopold II in Ostend. By cutting off the hand of the statue of a Congolese man standing under the king’s figure, the activists alluded to the well-known practice of brutal mutilations during the Congo Free State, which has become the exemplification of the ruthless violence of imperialist capitalism under king Leopold’s rule. This tiny lack, produced by the absence of a hand, puts into question the robust totality of the monument. And indeed, the ongoing absence of the hand is still being talked about: the monument has shifted from an homage to the king’s colonial enterprise, to a permanent challenge to the very same thing. Thus preventing monuments to be closed off, hermetic totalities, not only triggers ongoing debate about what they represent or glorify, but underlines as well the fact that the space we inhabit is not neutral, not fixed and should be subject to interrogation. What seems to be a detail here, is in fact crucial : nothing extrinsic, no alien matter whatsoever has been added to the original object. A part of the original matter has been removed and dislocated in order to generate a lack.

The following sketches and montages are to be considered as a kind of blueprint for addressing the presence of colonial monuments. A reverse construction site, so to speak.

Accordingly, I have borrowed the title for this project from Adou Eyenga’s 1955 song Ata ndele mokili ekobaluka (One day, the world will tip over). This was probably the first Congolese pop song suggesting the possibility of independence.

As you will notice, I have chosen to include some lesser-known monuments, because the usual fixation on the figure of king Leopold II can only be detrimental to our aesthetical pursuit of historical justice. Though it arguably has started as such, one should not forget that colonization was not a one-man enterprise, but a large-scale accepted “endeavor” to which a plethora of people have actively or passively contributed."


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