Photo Kohta (c) Jussi Tiainen
Jean Katambayi Mukendi: Seer
Jean Katambayi Mukendi (born in 1974, lives in Lubumbashi) is one of the leading contemporary artists from sub-Saharan Africa.
Jean Katambayi Mukendi (born in 1974, lives in Lubumbashi) is one of the leading contemporary artists from sub-Saharan Africa. This is his first solo exhibition in the Nordic region.
Lubumbashi, the capital of the mineral-rich Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is an economic and cultural powerhouse with a contemporary art biennale founded in 2008.
Katambayi Mukendi was trained as an electrician. His work gestures at the objectivity of engineering and the abstraction of mathematical thought, while also incorporating the visual cues that help us understand lived reality and organise it into meaningful images.
In various series of drawings in ink or ballpoint pen Katambayi Mukendi offers ever new variations on the theme of the ‘Afrolamp’ that gives off no light but instead becomes a tool for visual enlightenment on a wide range of topics, from deforestation to vaccination.
He uses the power grid as a metaphor for human society and its shortcomings. Outages, energy theft and accidental electrocutions are emblematic of the shambolic public services in the ‘global south’. There is no reliable supply of energy to those living at the ‘heart of darkness’ where the minerals needed for 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 work is transformative rather than dystopian.