Congo Gravitational Waves // A Metadigital & Tantalean Tale
College of Visual Arts and Design Galleries | University of North Texas | Denton, TX
June 14 - September 3, 2022
Kongo Astronauts is a Kinshasa-based collective founded in 2013 by artists Michel Ekeba and Eléonore Hellio. Their work across disciplines, media, political borders, restrictive artistic and cultural boundaries, and temporal thresholds reimagines our shared futures and elicits thoughts of refusal and renewal. Their performative responses to the postcolonial environment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo invite audiences to bear witness to KA’s offering of these courageously enacted alternate realities. By remixing and repurposing quotidian objects and words, KA gives life to new visual elements and linguistic creations that are fantastical in their presentation while remaining grounded in the reality of life in Kinshasa.
The exhibition, curated by Rachel Kabukala, is KA's first solo show and features a short film, a series of large-scale photographic prints, and one of the astrosuits worn by Ekeba when he performs in the streets of Kinshasa and beyond. The After Schengen photographic series dominates the gallery’s footprint and depicts a spacewalker in a golden suit plastered with electronic circuits and other digital debris aboard an inoperable jet. The series title evokes the Schengen Treaty of 1985, which led to the establishment of unrestricted cross-national movement of European Union citizens within its borders and served to further complicate international travel for citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other African nations.
The pieces presented in Congo Gravitational Waves were selected amidst COVID-19 and during a period of personal meditation on the speculative writing of Black women visionaries like Octavia Butler and Adrienne Maree Brown. The resulting body of work reflects both the isolating, solitary experience of navigating a global pandemic as well as the possibilities for renewal and discovery found within concepts like Butler’s Earthseed and Brown’s Emergent Strategy. Although the environment we see in these works evokes thoughts of the Anthropocene, what messages of hope, survivance, and possibility emerge as we witness the spacewalker persist while exploring this postcolonial landscape? The intention is for audiences to join KA in their journey to places unknown, prompting visitors to formulate their own collaborative ideations about how we might move forward together.
Artwork courtesy the artists and Axis Gallery, NY & NJ
Photographs © Rachel Kabukala