Jean Katambayi Mukendi: Seer

Jean Katambayi Mukendi: Seer




12:00 – 18:00



Kunsthalle Kohta invites you to discover one of the leading contemporary artists from sub-Saharan Africa. Opening on Wednesday, 19 October, at 6–8pm. All welcome!

From the beginning five years ago, we have sought to offer the interested public ‘an image of the world as we would want it to be’. This vision of internationalism is central to our programme, and we are especially proud to present the exhibition ‘Seer’ by Jean Katambayi Mukendi (born in Lubumbashi in 1974, lives in Lubumbashi).

Today his country is called the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the time of his birth it was called Zaïre and before 1960 it was the Belgian Congo. The country is blessed with both natural and human resources but has a brutal history of colonial exploitation and post-colonial civil wars, which have mostly plagued its mineral-rich eastern parts. Lubumbashi is its third-largest city and the capital of the Katanga region, famous for its copper mines. The city is an economic and cultural powerhouse. It is also a presence on the international contemporary art circuit, not least because of its biennale founded in 2008.

In recent years Katambayi Mukendi’s work has attracted attention in western Europe and the US, but this is the first solo presentation of his work in the Nordic region. His drawings and sculptures challenge conventions of how artists should address personal and societal concerns. They gesture at the objectivity of engineering, with visible marks of the ruler and pair of compasses that guided their design. They are, at the same time, visualisations of mathematical thought (coordinate systems, Fibonacci numbers) and unmediated manifestations of an inquisitive, shape-shifting mind.

Katambayi Mukendi is constantly on the outlook for the likenesses, differences, characteristic details and other visual cues that help us understand lived reality and organise it into meaningful images. In various series of drawings in ink or ballpoint pen (over constructive underpinnings in pencil) he offers ever new variations on the theme of the Afrolamp. This ‘African’ lamp gives off no light but instead becomes a tool for visual enlightenment on a wide range of topics, from deforestation to vaccination. The exhibition contains 18 Afrolamp drawings from 2017–2022.

Trained as an electrician, Katambayi Mukendi uses the power grid as a metaphor for human society, its ambitions and shortcomings. System overloads and outages, energy theft and accidental electrocutions are emblematic of the shambolic public services that people in the Congo (and elsewhere in the ‘global south’) have to contend with – and indeed of the fundamental disrespect with which they are treated by those who set the rules for them, in their own countries and globally.

No one has done the political and administrative work necessary to provide a reliable supply of energy to those living at the ‘heart of darkness’ where the minerals needed for manufacturing the contemporary instruments of ‘seeing’ – LED lamps, smartphones, laptops – are mined at horrific cost to workers and to the environment. Katambayi Mukendi speaks of all this, but he is a seer rather than an observer, a visionary rather than an activist. His reasoning and imagination are transformative rather than dystopian. His work is both deconstructive and mind-opening. In this sense he is a true Afro-futurist.

The exhibition borrows its title from one of the five featured sculptures, for which Katambayi Mukendi has used inexpensive materials like cardboard, paper, plastic, masking tape, electric wiring, lamps and various found objects. Voyant (2015) is a robotically anthropomorphic (or anthropomorphically robotic) meditation on seeing and being seen. It speaks literally of exposure to surveillance and metaphorically of escape into the occult.

The sculptures Lester (2011) and Yllux (2012) are more down-to-earth but also more visually exuberant. The former can be described as a virtual electrical switch, allowing the inhabitants of a building to collectively manage their use of energy, while the latter alludes both to a car engine and to the illusory hope for the generation of perpetual and free energy in the future. The title is in fact a conflation of ‘illusion’ and ‘Hilux’, the name of a Toyota pickup truck commonly used in sub-Saharan Africa.

Manda (2016) is again anthropomorphic, a self-portrait of sorts named after Katambayi Mukendi’s parents’ village. Its inhabitants have sometimes chosen to interpret the ‘Made in Japan’ labels on various consumer goods as a sign that their village was widely known also overseas. Onderhandling (2019) is a multi-coloured meditation, in Katambayi Mukendi’s usual makeshift materials, on the word that means ‘negotiation’ in Dutch.

Two works executed in mixed media on on paper are also included in the exhibition, River and Survivor (both 2016).

‘Jean Katambayi Mukendi: Seer’ is organised by Kohta in collaboration with the galleries Walburger Wouters in Brussels, Ramiken in New York and +23243493810761811553964 in Antwerp.

Thu 20 Oct 2022 – 11 Dec 2022 12:00 – 18:00



Työpajankatu 2 B 3. fl
00580 Helsinki