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In the temple of colonialism

Still, the monuments in Belgium's cities shows Leopold II on horseback. The Monarch led in the Congo, an apocalyptic campaign of destruction. His rule over the Central African country will cost ten million lives. For over 20 years, from 1885 to 1908, an exploitation of Leopold II, the country made huge amounts of rubber and ivory out of the country and was one of the richest men in the world.

The king left it in his bloody rampage on the natural resources of the country, but left to gather his colonial officials of cultural goods. Cult and everyday objects were stolen read the Congo, robbed, blackmailed or there was also cheaply purchased. Belgian Explorer, adventurer, and military, brought together especially beautiful or rare specimens home. Added to this were the rare minerals, of which the geologist is not enough could get. In Tervuren, the is located twelve kilometers outside of Brussels, summed up the Monarch of his treasures and presented in a castle-like Museum complex.

We are sitting in the lecture hall and listen to the French colored English Guido Gryseels’. "We have the world's largest collection of cultural heritage, which originates from Central Africa," he says in his inaugural lecture. Its conservators have counted tens of millions of objects originating from the fields of anthropology, history, biology, botany, and earth Sciences. Gryseels is since 2001 Director of the Royal Museum for Central Africa, the Museum is now called Africa. After five years of General renovation of the 100-year-old building last December, was re-opened.

"The Museum," says Gryseels, "a tribute to the era of colonialism, and shows many of the statues which glorify the subjugation of the Congo. We have, however, brought new exhibitions into the building, with a much stronger reference to contemporary Africa. We wanted to make the Africans into the center of the exhibitions. Earlier, the Museum showed how the Belgians see Africa. Today we will show how the Africans in Africa and see for yourself."

Bloody conclusion

Before the visit to the Museum we read Eric Vuillard's shocking settlement with the Belgian rule in the Congo. The little book of the French writer about the Congo conference in Berlin in 1884/85 makes skeptical of the revival of the Congo-Raubguts. Must present a perpetrator nation, a peaceful, largely apolitical analysis of artifacts? The concept of the ethnographic Museum is in the face of the bloody conclusion of a collection is not absurd?

Even if Leopold II had in mind in the Congo, not Ethnocide, the blood, his rule has cost beyond assets, any idea. Vuillard reported from the baskets full of hands that were cut off the Africans, because the colonial officials for each ball, consumed them, had to witness. Leopold's captors forced the population of an almost dog-like obedience. Ill-treatment and mutilation were commonplace.

Didier Claes specialises gallerist in Brussels, and African art. We meet in Kinshasa-born son of a Belgian father and a Congolese mother in the Museum. Already in his Welcome address, he praised the renovated Africa Museum. Then he makes clear his attitude in the restitution debate, which has sparked Emmanuel Macron. "Even if you have to note that Africa has been emptied of its cultural assets largely, what in the world is quite unique, it needs for each Restitution is a proper procedure."

Should not be
in the light of the killings in the Congo, all the walls of the Museum are painted red?

Claes leads us past the large color photographs from Kinshasa, the give an impression of the hustle and bustle of urban life. He shows pride and also a little amused on a giant robot in the middle of the room. It is an electronic traffic COP, a copy of a futuristic species that regulates to the large Boulevards in Kinshasa traffic. In the Museum it stands as a Symbol for the awakening in the country.

In other galleries of the Museum, as if it was some kind of Museum of Ethnology in Europe, the diversity of languages in the Congo, about his music and his tradition-informed. We see didactic Museum installations on the theme of birth, education and death, in which the masks and statues in an ethnological context. On monitors Africans explain the rituals that are practiced still today in the Congo.

Gryseels aimed at the reinstallation of the collection, the cooperation with the Africans. You should make the house a lively place of exchange. The African Diaspora – about five percent of the eleven million Belgians have African roots – to feel in this colonial Palace at home. That we have seen during our visit only a single people of darker skin color, namely, Didier Claes, shows how ambitious this objective is.

The way the Museum is a recapitulation of the last 150 years in the Congo, is so papers, and restrained, that it gives the impression that they wanted to displace the atrocities. The Museum emerges here as a compromise between a far-advanced scientific research, history, and a society that is not due to a blatant reminder of the deficit of the pressing questions after a historic Moral or not.

Because should not be, given the mass murders in the Congo, the walls of the renovated Museum, all in red paint? Would not have to be somewhere recognized the huge profits that the over-exploitation in Central Africa accumulated in Belgium, not only in Numbers, but in a symbolic Form, with the help of the giants would be gains for the visitor experience? What is the responsibility of the Belgian companies and families that have been through the over-exploitation in the Congo very rich and, still today, large collections of artifacts have?

With Didier Claes, we are in the treasure chamber of the Museum, a temporary exhibition with the title "Incomparable art". Here, the Congolese world heritage site; hundreds of fascinating are sending masks and sculptures, mostly made of wood, in glass cases on display. "The masterpieces", says Claes, whose eyes Shine with enthusiasm. "The presentation reminded here, of course, still strong in the times before the Renovation. But this room is very important for the collector and art dealer."

Museum amnesia

Despite many changes, no radical historical revaluation of the Belgian involvement in the Congo will be held in the Africa Museum, as might be expected in times of decolonization. After all, Gryseels assured that you have strengthened the provenance research. Also, you want to adjust in the future, employees of Congolese origin – until now there is no – and on restitution requests quickly and easily respond.

In the renovated building in the idyllic countryside panoramas that give an impression of the beauty of the Congo. On the walls we can see huge, historical maps of the Belgian colonial Empire. And suddenly we find ourselves in a meticulously restored crocodile room from the time of the penultimate turn of the century, the acts like a time capsule. Finally, we remain in the great hall of fame – wonder if so much neglected History – stand in front of larger-than-life, white and black statues, in the style of the historicist plastic of the Superiority of a spiritualized white race over the primitive Black reports.

The highlight of the Museum's amnesia those outer wall at the Museum, where a huge marble plaque of the 1508 Belgians who arrived in the Congo to death, but. What a topsy-turvy world! To remind, rather than to the millions of Black, had to be to get this panel due to reasons of preservation and renovation. Gryseels was looking for a counterpoint and asked the Congolese artist Freddy Tsimba to an artistic Intervention. This represents how to make the madness even more, seven human bronze figures on the wall in front of the memorial plaque, to remember to read to the Congo, who died in a human zoo in Tervuren during the Brussels world exhibition in 1898.

"parts of The story, the Belgium and the Congo, is a story of pain," says Claes. "Belgium has decided to renovate the Museum in Tervuren, so that it can be Keeper of the memories. I think it is good. If you wipe out the Museum, you will lose the memory. Of course, I want to say is: basically, it would mean the Africa-Museum, but the Congo Museum, because 95 percent of the objects come from the Congo."

(editing Tamedia)

Created: 22.04.2019, 17:46 PM

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