The Congo Archives

 

Based upon archives from a colonial family member from the beginning of the previous century, Gerda Van Damme revisits the past, wondering about what may have been and leaving open for interpretation by our contemporary eyes what happened in a historic, non-fictional past.

Visa pour publication

Exhibition view in Church Notre Dame de Mont Carmel, 2021

Visa pour publication 

Oil on canvas, 180 x 140 cm, 2020

The document at the basis of this painting was a press release from the Belgian Ministry of Colonial Affairs and represents a scene in East Africa where a central person watches how the corpses of hanged black people are being taken down from the hanging tree. The issuer of the press release uses this cruel scene to accuse the Germans. The legend on the document said: "Africans hanged by the Germans in East Africa" (or in other words "We didn't do it, it was the Germans' fault!").

This is a cruelty that ‒ in the 21st century living in Europe ‒ exceeds our imagination. The reality of the painting is shocking for the present-day viewer. But this kind of cruelties still happen all the time. Somewhere. And we know it. With the "Black Lives Matter"-movement its current-day relevance is undeniable.
The painting is not only about a cruel event. It is also about communication, about the distance documents can create from reality, and about our way of looking at documents ‒ thus the title "Visa pour publication".

The central person, seen from the back and in natural size, has been 'isolated' from the rest of the scene by a different color tone and a less blurred aspect, while the rest of the scene is blurred. This allows for an uncomfortable form of identification.

Measuring Despair 

Oil on canvas, 180 x 140 cm, 2020

Who is the man running in despair? And what is his relation to the man following him, a meter in his hands?

This painting - equally as the original document it is based upon - leaves the viewer with more questions than answers.

Measuring Despair

Exhibition view in Church Notre Dame de Mont Carmel, 2021