Ancestral Sculpture Balot Temporarily returned to Country of Origin

Friday, April 5, 2024
Ancestral Sculpture Balot Temporarily returned to Country of Origin

On Tuesday 19 March DRC-based artist collective Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (CATPC) organised a special ceremony to welcome back the sculpture Balot: a carved wood ancestral power-figure made in 1931. This event marks the first time that the sculpture returns to its country of origin in more than 50 years.

CATPC requested the temporary loan of Balot from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (USA) in anticipation of the 2024 Dutch National participation at the International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia held in collaboration with Dutch artist Renzo Martens and curator Hicham Khalidi. 

In the presence of the community, press, local authorities and VMFA curator Dr. Ndubuisi C. Ezeluomba - who helped make the loan possible – CATPC held a ceremony in order to welcome and reclaim the inherent powers of the Balot sculpture before installing it in the White Cube. 

Ced'art Tamasala spoke on behalf of CATPC and the community and further speeches were made by René Ngongo (president of CATPC) and Eelco van der Lingen (director of the Mondriaan Fund). 

During the ceremony the members of CATPC reenacted the history of the 1931 Pende uprising in Lusanga (formerly Leverville) as a reminder of the horrendous circumstances of the Pende people at that time, for whom the Balot sculpture was created to act as a shield and a protective force in their favour by harnessing the negative powers of the colonial agent Maximilian Balot and his accomplices.

CATPC also reenacted ‘The Judgement of the White Cube’, a performance in which the White Cube is judged and sentenced to ask for forgiveness and bring back Balot. After the formalities, Balot was carried to a traditional shrine, where, in a private ceremony, eligible members of the community reclaimed ownership of the sculpture and control over its inherent powers through ritual and spiritual means.

Film still from The Return of Balot, CATPC, 2024, image by Jurgen Lisse 

Ced’art Tamasala on behalf of CATPC: “We at CATPC are part of a new generation of plantation workers that is seeking, proposing and trying to find sustainable answers to the long-standing questions that are the key to the liberation of plantations. It is not enough for museums to decolonize themselves. We - the communities that live and work on the plantations that have involuntarily financed the establishment of museums - must first be able to liberate ourselves. The return of Balot focuses our energy and strengthens our cause. Ultimately, by restoring the balance and correcting past injustices, the return of Balot will allow us to continue to liberate the land that was taken from us by plantation companies, it will enable us to abolish forced and destructive monoculture and to plant, regenerate and nourish back into existence our sacred forests."

Eelco van der Lingen, director of the Mondriaan Fund and commissioner of the Dutch pavilion at the Biennale of Venice was asked to speak a few words during the ceremony: "CATPC has made clear that this project for the Venice Biennale is about more than just institutional criticism and that there is a cause bigger than making an art exhibitions. For this bigger cause a new balance is needed and to be able to create a new balance a sculpture was needed to come to Lusanga. I look forward to what the presentations in Venice and Lusanga will bring for the future."

The sculpture Balot will be on public display in the White Cube in Lusanga from April 20 to November 24, 2024 as part of ‘The International Celebration of Blasphemy and the Sacred': the twin exhibition running in both Lusanga, DRC and Venice, Italy. Connected by a live stream, visitors to the Dutch Pavilion in Venice will be able to see the Balot sculpture on display in the White Cube in Lusanga (DRC). 

For the exhibition CATPC, in collaboration with Renzo Martens and Hicham Khalidi, will present a series of new artworks. The forthcoming exhibition is but one component of CATPC’s ongoing commitment for the plantation of Lusanga to be freed, regenerated and transformed back into sacred forests, as well as their commitment to a greater project of spiritual, ethical and economic reckoning. 

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Image of the Day

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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