Re-presenting the past: the time-based return of Belgian colonial history in contemporary art and film (1986-2016)

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In this dissertation, I map how artists and filmmakers have returned to Belgian colonial history through time-based media. Through an anachronistic approach, I develop the thesis that the studied artworks and films, through their adoption of time-based media, perform an artistic gesture that I term ‘re-presenting the past.’ Thus evoking ‘presence,’ the artists’ and filmmakers’ artistic strategies suggest that the Belgian colonial past retains relevance to study the present. In addition, some artists and filmmakers complicate this ‘presence’ through an entanglement of temporality and existentiality, pointing to human existence. Through close readings of a selection of artworks and films, I demonstrate that filmmakers and artists have wrestled with continuities of Belgian colonialism after its official end in 1960 and re-emphasized Congolese figures as a major presence within historical narratives of the Congo, by means of a time-based return to history. In the Introduction of my dissertation, I outline the theoretical framework in which I ground the conceptualization of the artistic gesture of re-presenting the past. I delineate Congolese popular painting of the 1970s as an important predecessor and discuss how my analysis is based on scholarly interpretations put forward in discussions of appropriation films, postcolonial studies, and anthropology and history of the Congo and Belgium. In the first chapter, I analyze the video Pungulume (2016) by artist Sammy Baloji and the video RocketKitKongoKit (1986) by filmmaker Craig Baldwin. I demonstrate that both artists make an allegorical use of photography and film from the collection of Belgian colonial propaganda to indicate a contemporary presence of the practices that these images represent. In the second chapter I discuss the performance piece Déclaration de Dépendance de la Belgique au Zaire (1988-89) by B.I.W.A. and the film Episode III: Enjoy Poverty (2008) by Renzo Martens to define the artistic performance of historical figures as a strategy to highlight a contemporary presence of colonial processes. The third chapter focuses on how artist Ria Pacquée in her photo series Confronting a Colonial Past (1994) and artist Bernard Mulliez in his video L'Aventure ambigue (2002) both document their visits of exhibitions which they present as contemporary variants of colonial expositions. Through an analysis of the film Pièces d'Identités (1998) by Mweze Dieudonné Ngangura and the film Un Rêve d'indépendance (1998) by Monique Mbeka Phoba in Chapter 4, I attempt to show that these filmmakers reuse historical sources so as to emphasize a Congolese presence in Brussels and in historical narratives at large. I will conclude the dissertation with an Coda in which I discuss a consequence of the conclusion of this dissertation, namely a questioning of my own research position.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Ruchel-Stockmans, Katarzyna, Supervisor
Award date23 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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