Patrick Bongoy’s large work dominates the entrance to the venue hosting the Curator’s Exhibition at the 2020 Stellenbosch Triennale. His work is entitled Across the Currents which is a representation of migration, the loss of identity and dislocation. Bongoy is an artist born in the Democratic Republic Congo who tends to reference the socio-economic and political dialogues originating from the country of his birth.
A main theme that is evident in the exhibition as a whole and in the work of Bongoy is the choice of material. Bongoy uses rubber and hessian strips which were sourced from the DRC. Rubber is representative of the DRC people’s dislocation as it was a resource that was exported from the Congo in the 1890s under the rule of King Leopold. The material is notable for is was one of Congo’s most precious raw materials and its harvesting took place under conditions of extreme human suffering.
The first thing that meets viewers is the cage like architectural structure placed around the inner sculptures. The structure feels as if it is a symbol of the powers that controlled the people of the DRC. It acts as a barrier between viewers and the sculptures inside, making everyone on the outside a mere observer of the work. Here we feel a sense of power and surveillance, much like the people did in the DRC when their resources were taken over by the Belgians. Rubber straps are used to create barriers between the outside and the inside forming an obstruction as viewers struggle to view inside. Here a viewer could feel disconnected and then invited to interact with it to understand it. This ties into Bongoy’s view on how migration leads to dislocation and individuals feel unsettled and unwelcome. To me, the architectural structure reinforces an idea of power struggles between the people of the DRC and the powers that controlled it.
Another noticeable aspect of Bongoy’s work concerning the materials used is the flooring. The floor is created using a woven rubber mat that is uneven and uneasy to the eye. It appears to represents the ocean that individuals had to travel across to migrate to other lands because of the harsh realities they were faced with. The name of the work Across the Currents also reiterates this idea that the ocean like rippled flooring represents the currents of the oceans, that separate individuals from their heritage. It also alludes to the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The ocean indicates the migration of individuals, and how the further they move away from their homes the more dislocated they become.
An aspect that I was drawn to while experiencing this piece was the music. To fully interact and immerse yourself into the artwork the music plays a vital role in your engagement. The song is about keeping things that you become disconnected to in your heart. The song is called Likambo ya ngana which translates to ‘some other people’s stuff’. I felt that this resonated with dislocation and loss of power felt by the DRC. The rubber was once the DRC’s raw material, but it became other people’s stuff when the Belgian powers took over. The fact that the architectural structure and sculptural elements are made of rubber suggests that through colonization the very items that represented them as a nation have become ‘other people’s stuff’.
The full song is not played in the exhibition, but a piece of the song is repeated which says Bomba makambo eee, which means ‘to hide stuff’. This felt as if it were a plead for the Congolese people to hide their things away from others as they once possessed a material that was taken from them and created a sense of dislocation and loss of heritage. The song is an indication of how the Congolese people feel even many years later about their heritage and their past.