BAZUNGULA BINANGU MAURICE: IN HIS OWN WORDS
"Contemporary African Art: Bazungula through War and Peace": Exhibit in New York, May 2005
In 1942, Bazungula was born in Mpasa to Binangu and Basuna Esther. His village is Kenge, Luozi territory, in the district of the cataracts in the Low-Congo province. He had three elder brothers, his mother's children from a first marriage. As was the custom, when her first husband died, Basuna Esther married another man of the same family. With the support of his elder brothers, he entered primary school in 1950 and studied for the first degree in the village for three years. He then traveled 20 kilometers to the regional school in Bukaba for four years and studied for his final year at the central school at the Sundi-Lutete mission.
At 15, his father died and his mother shortly thereafter. Bazungula wanted to leave the village. When a shaman foresaw the danger from the village wizards, he sent his son to neighboring Matadi. Bazungula went too where he became interested in the local art, although his first job was as an office boy with a forestry company. After two years, he returned to school at the training institute for young Congolese people (JFOJECO) in Boma where he studied for two year before he withdrew because of lack of support. When he returned to the Congo, he could not find work since he lacked proper papers. Disappointed, he returned to his native village. He was desolate because of the death of his elder brothers. The village chief worried Bazungula would suffer the same fate and urged him to leave. Bazungula wrote to his cousin, Ngula François in Kinshasa, who agreed to welcome him in 1965.
Bazungula was awed by the abundance of artwork in Kinshaha and set out to meet the artists. Among the first he encountered was Bala Jean, a master landscape painter who employed Bazungula as a sales assistant in the central plaza, Blanconierr Place. Bala Jean allowed the young man to observe the creative activity in the workshop. Soon Bazungula began to discover how to use his own creative talents - a process he called "finding the hidden treasure." Bazungula credits Bala Jean with introducing him to art and to encouraging him to continue what was to become his life's work. He observed the various market artists and began to paint in 1967. His work was exhibited in a group show organized by the minister of culture where he won a prize and was greatly encouraged.
The following year, master painter, Nsusu Felelo invited Bazungula to help him prepare a large exposition for the Albert College. Of the four months spent in this workshop, Bazungula says he learned how to create exhibits and to make presentations. Bazungula's first one-man show was organized at the faculty club of the University of Louvain in 1969. One of the people who saw the show was in a unique position to help the artist. Maurice Allhadeff, a major collector, offered Bazungula an employment contract that included materials to paint. After arriving in the Congo, this Italian Jew had begun to commission talented young painters who become part of what came to be called the Allhadeff School. The commissions provided a supportive environment for artists to develop their creative arts. Four years of Allhadeff's tutelage provided lesson on colors and the use of white and how to apply it to canvas to make the work appreciated locally and internationally. When Allhadeff died, Bazungula opened his own workshop.
Yet, these were troubling times for Kinshasa. Foreigners and international companies were fleeing the country. The Republic of Zaire policies paralyzed many productive, commercial, and artistic activities. For the first time in the history of the country, artists lacked materials and venues for their artistic works. Reflecting on this time, Bazungula remarked that "God does not sleep." In 1985, the Center of Orientation and Education (COE), an Italian organization, funded by Francesco Pedretti to preserve and promote the cultures and the art of developing countries, reached out to the trade association of the Artists of the Ndjilli (APAN) to see if they could help. As an APAN member, Bazungula benefited from the projects that COE sent to keep the artists working.
In 1996, COE introduced Bazungula's work to Italy by supporting a three-month retrospective exhibit of his paintings. The exhibit was also intended to introduce the African tradition to the Italian community. The Italians appreciated the artist's vibrant use of colors and the developed subjects of Bazungula's paintings. For the artist, the sojourn to Italy was a highlight of his life, providing recognition for "Peintre Bazungula Binangu Maurice." A decade later, many of the people he met, continue to provide moral and financial encouragement.
The artist recognized the support of major collectors especially George-Robert Wathen, who has many of the original works and his Excellency Monsignor Gillon at the University of Louvain who chose many paintings to add to the collection. Most of all, the artist thanks Dr. William E. Bertrand for his continuing support and for taking to heart what Bazungula asks of his collectors: "moral, physical, material, financial support, so that the living artist can enjoy the fruits his work. Collectors become the primary representatives in the world for my paintings."
The power of belief, the power of collectors and mentors, Bazungula believes keeps him strong in the world of arts, through war and peace.
Exhibition in New York
The National Arts Club, New York
The President, Board of Governors and the Education Committee present
"Contemporary African Art: Bazungula through War and Peace"
Marquis Gallery, May 8 - 14, 2005
Opening Reception, Monday, May 9, 2005, 6 pm
Throughout the 40 years of upheaval in the Congo, Bazungula continues to paint, continues to use his creative talents to express emotions, feelings and changing times in his native country and the world. Born in 1943 in Mpasa, near Cataracts Falls, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bazungula is a member of the Bakongo tribe, known for its artistic traditions. He moved to Kinshasa and began interacting with other painters, opening his first Atelier in 1967. The following year, he won first prize for Art organized by the Tourism and Culture ministry in what was then Zaire.
Religious themes are often the subject of Bazungula's work. In 1994, the Vatican commissioned him to paint a 12-part series for the African Art Show of the Second African Synod. Of his work, the catalog noted: "Bazungula creates his images in the typical plastic tradition of African sculpture. His chromatic ranges underline dramatic subjects of his paintings."
Running through Bazungula's creative artistic output, there is a current of intense pathos, at times subdued, calm and deeply tragic, at times removed and almost indifferent. His works of art deal with human emotions, conveyed by simple forthright means, free of artifice. Bright colors inject lifeblood into the figures appearing on the canvas. He paints with a plasticity so inherent in his ethnic origins, precisely those forms of expression whose sources go back to emotions rather than the mind, allowing him to be trusting of instinct and natural simplicity, yielding a purity of style.
The highly prolific Bazungula, has been painting for four decades, at times tending towards a synthetic cubism in the foreground with occasional touches of convincing illusionist realism. Creating at times fantastic elements, and at other times he conjures up a system of form, movement and depth. In order to ground the composition, he uses techniques of line, volume and color to achieve more often than not, spectacular results. At best, Bazungula's art attains a classical perfection in his own terms. It's most vital message is that of absolute freedom of expression, paving the way beyond traditional formulas, yet with no loss - on the contrary, a gain of architectonic coherence and sheer lyrical appeal - a triumph of artistic invention and perseverance over the influences and elements of the real world.
Bazungula's work has appeared in numerous group shows, private collections and regional museums. The show is curated by Lucia Quadros, of Buford's Gallery, Nairobi, Kenya who will be present. The show is made possible by the support of one of Bazungula's collectors, NAC Education Committee member, Dr. William E. Bertrand, who founded the School of Public Health in Kinshasa and is known for his significant donations of African ethnographic art to museum collections, including the National Museum of Colombia, Bogota; Southern University of Louisiana; and the African American Museum of New Orleans.