Africa Fashion Guide
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April 10th, 2018

“African Print” and ART – The Globalised Signifier of Africanness in Eddy Kamuanga Iluangas Art // NEW EVENT

The interest in contemporary African Arts has been growing exponentially over the years and though Art is not usually an area of focus for Africa Fashion Guide we do keep an eye out for African artists whose work has a relationship with fashion and textiles.

So when we heard that London based October Gallery, London, had announced its forthcoming exhibition of new works by Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga we had to check it out and let you know. This will also be the artist’s second exhibition with the gallery following his astonishing inaugural presentation in 2016.


Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1991 and studied painting at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Kinshasa. While the strict, almost 19th-century style of formal figuration that has been taught at the Académie since its colonial-era founding allowed the artist to develop sophisticated painterly skills, ultimately, he found its program conceptually stifling, and abandoned his studies there, in 2011. Though there was little in place supporting that decision, he quickly aligned himself with other artists to establish M’Pongo, a group studio where a diverse set of young artists shared ideas and exhibited together to generate their own vibrant scene, which tapped into the high-energy creativity of contemporary Kinshasa.

In his work, Kamuanga Ilunga explores the seismic shifts in the economic, political and social identity of the DRC that have taken place since colonialism. Kinshasa, DRC is the third largest city in Africa – after Cairo and Lagos – and the visual and aural cornucopia composing its flamboyant culture of fashion, dance and music  are fertile stimulants to Kamuanga’s creation of images containing all the vital energy of this rich source of urban experience.

Increasingly globalised, yet still devoutly Christian, much of the country completely rejects its multi-ethnic indigenous heritage. The artist’s own mother, a modern woman who supported and raised her large family alone, didn’t want him to undertake a research trip to visit people from her own ethnic grouping, considering them pagan, backwards and even dangerous! It is this loss of their traditional cultures that his listless figures seem to mourn, their bright fabrics hanging limply from their bodies, their hands clutching ritual objects whose functions seem less and less apparent.

Found in his work most notably, the figures’ skins are patterned with computer integrated circuits: a precise visual signifier of digital culture, whilst being majestically dressed in swathes of bright African textiles. The portrayed figures pose as fashion models or engage with each other in various ways, whilst often holding traditional Mangbetu objects, such as knives, mirrors, combs and other hair adornments.

Today’s DRC is the world’s largest exporter of coltan, a raw material used in computer chips and mobile phones, and we see this ubiquitous marker of global modernity creeping across their skins. The monumental quality of the works makes the figures both heroic and elegiac. Yet, even as the Congolese fabrics painted as European drapery recount the developing story of the DR Congo of today the inter-dimensional ambiguity, between solidity and flatness, suggests an underlying anguish and emptiness.


We have seen a large number of African artists employing African fabric, the so-called pagne, as a material market of cultural identity – an attribute certainly possessed, in pre-colonial times, when fabrics served as repositories of knowledge and tools of communication. For some contemporary artists, African fabrics have come to refer to the complex transnational circuits of production and distribution in which they participate, as in the work of El Anatsui, Yinka Shonibare and Abdoulaye Konaté. But, despite being printed in Indonesia and distributed by Dutch companies (from which derives the name ‘Dutch wax prints’) these fabrics, pagnes, textiles, capulanas (the generic term to define African fabrics in Mozambique) or wrappers remain a globalised signifier of Africaness itself. Eddy Kamuanga dresses his elegant Mangbetu figures with delicately painted textiles, whose splendid folds adorn and evoke a marvellous miscellany of African times and places.

In this new series, the artist is focused specifically on the economy of porcelain in the Congo, which was used as currency in the trading of slaves during the Colonial era.

Kamuanga Ilunga’s work has been exhibited across Africa, notably at Dak’Art; Biennale OFF Senegal in 2014, and made its London debut at the Saatchi Gallery’s Panagaea II in 2015. The enormous excitement around the 24-year-old artist at London’s 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in 2015 and at New York’s Armory Show in 2016 was emphasised by an article in the FT’s How to Spend It, which employed his work ‘Lost’ to represent The Best of New York Armory, 2016. Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga was longlisted for the FT/Oppenheimer Funds Emerging Voices Awards 2016, and in 2017 his work was included in the exhibitions: African-Print Fashion Now! at the Fowler Museum, UCLA; I want! I want! Art and Technology at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, UK; and in the 249th Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London.



Exhibition:                     Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga

Exhibition Dates:         10th May – 16th June, 2018

Venue:                            October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street. London WC1N 3AL

Telephone:                   020 7242 7367

Opening hours:             Tuesday – Saturday 12.30 – 5.30pm

Admission:                    Free






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