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School of Art PhD seminar: Visual/Artistic Cultures as Portable Monuments of the Congo

November 22, 2017 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Jacob Koster | Visual/Artistic Cultures as Portable Monuments of the Congo

As Nietzsche noted in On the Use and Abuse of History for Life, history can be a source of growth and regeneration as well as stagnation and apathy. With the concept of “plastic power” he denotes the capacity of individuals and societies to make constructive use of the past for future projects (1874/1997). Recent scholarship has shown that collective memory is not just culturally constructed (Assmann 1995) but that it is informed by notions of fictionality and poeticity as much as evental histories (Rigney 2004). In other words, cultural artefacts actively produce cultural memory. We might therefore extend Nietzsche’s insight and argue that the “plastic power” of individuals and societies is a function of the “plasticity of history” in the formation of cultural memory. This concept is particularly useful within the context of the unfolding histories of imperialism and colonialism. For artists in the D.R. Congo it is important not just to preserve memories of suffering and injustice but to transform the past in the service of a liveable future. In this context, to bear testimony to the past takes on a different meaning. In this paper I will argue that Congolese artists such as Méga Mingiedi Tunga, Kiripi Katembo, and Cedrick Tamasala approach history not as narrative but as object. This allows them to question inherited notions and open up new possibilities of thought and action. Using insights from object-oriented ontology to interrogate and reinterpret “the presence of the past,” I will propose a reading of recent Congolese art as historical (re)enactment.

Please email Sian Vaughan at if you would like to attend.


November 22, 2017
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
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Seminar room (F.05), Birmingham School of Art
Margaret Street
Birmingham , B3 3BX
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