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ASAUK 2012, Uncategorized

Panel 11 Congo and the politics of culture


Congo and the Politics of Culture

This panel will be presented at the biannual conference of the ASAUK (African Studies Association in the UK) in September 2012 (Leeds, Sept 6-8). The organizers have invited the Congo Research Network to participate in this. 12 Congo related panels have been accepted.

If you wish to participate, you can join already accepted panels or you can submit a stand-alone paper. Participants should submit their paper abstracts via the ASAUK website. First, they should register as authors, then select the panel in which they want to participate, and then enter their abstract.

The following link gives you more information about registration: http://www.asauk.net/conferences/asauk12.shtml

The deadline for the submission of paper abstracts is 27 April 2012.

To attend the event without presenting a paper, contact the conference organizer David Kerr (conference@asauk.net, +44 (0)121 414 5124)

Panel organizer: Dr. Sarah Van Beurden

This panel aims to explore the relation between culture and politics in the colonial history of the Belgian Congo. Both the impact of cultural politics – i.e. the politics aimed at cultural life in the Congo and its representation in the colonial home country, and the politics of culture- i.e. the worldviews imbued in the description, representation and definition of culture- are the subject of these papers. We are considering a variety of actors; including Congolese colonial subjects, missionaries, museum professionals, and scientists. Through the exploration of material cultures, missionary cultures, museological representations and scientific discourses in Belgium and in the Congo, we describe how actions in the cultural realm both shape and are shaped by the political contours of the colonial state.

The Lemaire Expedition 1898-1900 revisited. Collecting and Representation within the Context of African and European Culture and Politics- Maarten Couttenier, Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA)

This paper is based on archival research and fieldwork in RDCongo and discusses processes starting from the collecting material culture within an African reality, leading to the museological representation in Europe. The case study of the Lemaire expedition (1898-1900) will be used to demonstrate that expeditions not only had scientific goals but also served a political agenda. Lemaire created maps to mark the southern border of the Congo Free State and helped to organize military interventions in local politics. Recent fieldwork in Katanga provided more details on local African history and the perception of Europeans in the region. The ‘Mission Lemaire’ is still remembered in local oral history and traces of the expedition are still visible in the landscape. The combination of archival research shows that Africans as well as Europeans were active historical actors. Finally, this paper will discuss the problematic relation between the notions of precolonial, colonial and postcolonial history. Rooted in an ethnocentric worldview, any ‘pre/now/post’ periodization rather seems to blend into one another in today’s RDCongo.

On a Missionary Politics of Culture. The Gandajika Art School, 1952-1956- Bram Cleys, KULeuven- KADOC
In 1952, Jeroom Callebout, a Flemish missionary of the Catholic Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (commonly known as Scheut Fathers), started an art school at the Gandajika mission station in the Kasai region of the Belgian Congo. In this school, pupils were taught ivory carving, wood carving or stone carving. It was the first school of this nature erected by Scheut Fathers in Kasai since their arrival in this part of the country in 1891. Only four years later, in 1956, the school closed down as Callebout had to return to Belgium due to illness and no replacer was appointed.
The brief history of this art school is a telling illustration of two arguments: the prominence of the debate on the ‘indigenization’ of Christian art in Catholic circles in the 1940s and 1950s; and the relative insignificance of this debate to missionaries in Kasai, a prominent area of Catholic missionary work in the Belgian Congo. The debate on the ‘indigenization’ of Christian art had resurfaced in the interwar period in missiological circles in Europe. Through an adaptation of liturgical objects and other types of Christian art and architecture to local cultural styles, Catholic doctrine would become more accessible to people and so help to lay the foundation for a localization of the Church. Initially, however, most missionaries agreed that this debate was of little interest to sub-Saharan Africa as it was merely impossible to find suitable cultural forms. This rejection of the existence of African art was gradually abandoned after the Second World War as more and more missionaries started opening workshops where they would work together with African artists.
The foundation of the art school in Gandajika thus figures as an emanation of this movement. However, its short period of existence also shows the lack of support on the part of Callebout’s superiors for this initiative. For them, the development of a conscious ‘cultural politics’ was no priority. This however left ample space for the continuation of a less conscious, yet as powerful cultural politics grounded in a politics of culture that held the West-European culture as its point of orientation. A thorough analysis of this brief episode thus allows for a better understanding of the Scheut Fathers’ politics of culture.

Traditional Cultures in a Modern Colony: The Museum of the Belgian Congo and the Politics of the late Colonial Era (1946-1959)- Sarah Van Beurden, Ohio State University

This paper discusses the changing views on Congolese material culture that manifested itself in the Museum of the Belgian Congo in the late colonial period and the relation between these developments and the realm of colonial politics. Under the influence of the scholarship and under the directorship of Frans Olbrechts, part of the ethnographic collections of the Tervuren museum were reinvented as art collections. These changes had an impact upon the valorization of the objects, both in an economic and cultural sense. These developments, in turn, ran parallel with the rhetoric on the exceptional nature of Belgium’s colonial policies from the postwar period on, a rhetoric that depended on a portrayal of the colony as a place of special resources and value.
I will argue that understanding what concept and descriptions of Congolese culture the museum promoted, and how this fitted into the overall colonial ideology of Belgium, helps to clarify why the drive towards Congolese independence came as such a shock for the larger Belgian audience.


About Congo Research Network

The Congo Research Network (CRN) is a community of researchers working on DR Congo and its diaspora across the Humanities


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