'Looking for the Congo in the Congo Style': The 1897 Congo Pavilion and Art Nouveau
Posted: 18 Feb 2020
Date Written: April 17, 2013
This paper addresses the representation of Congolese people in the 1897 Congo Pavilion at the World’s Fair in Brussels. The paper introduces my greater research project, an interrogation of the relationship between the Belgian Art Nouveau movement (±1890 – 191'7 and King Leopold II’s Congo Free State (1885-1908). I analyze the foundation exhibition of what was to become Belgium’s Royal Africa Museum. My aim is to unpack the implementation of the work of key Belgian Art Nouveau figures in an exhibition whose purpose was to promote the economic opportunities available in the Congo Free State. I will be dealing with the manner in which the work of Congolese practitioners was displayed alongside that of the Belgians, as well as instances where the Art Nouveau work attempted to make visual reference to Congolese art forms. In doing so, I would like to underscore the degree to which the Western assumptions of power inherent within the exhibition served to construct Congolese identity from an imperial perspective. My overall intention is not only to discuss the problematic racist attitudes at play in the treatment of African objects during that time, but also to investigate the complex nature of representing other cultures.
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