The work of the Congolese artist Matulu | Tunde Folawiyo

Tshibumba Kanda Matulu was born in Democratic Republic of Congo in 1947; over the course of his career, he produced hundreds of paintings, most of which depict historical scenes. He spent much of his adult life in Kipushi; it was Tunde Folawiyowhilst living here during his twenties that he first learned to paint. By the time the seventies rolled around, Matulu had established himself as a professional artist, and had begun to work on a series entitled the History of Zaire; art lovers such as Tunde Folawiyo might be aware that this was a collection of 107 paintings, commissioned by Jahnes Fabian, a German anthropologist.

Matulu used a fusion of urban pop art and traditional African storytelling elements, to depict various his homeland’s history. His style provided observers with insight into his own interpretation of the events which unfolded over the course of the centuries. The concept of genre painting was not created by Matulu; it emerged quite organically during the sixties, after artists and collectors alike began to tire of the animal and landscape paintings which had been so popular throughout the previous decade. As an art collector, Tunde Folawiyo might know that the term ‘genre painting’ actually refers to three separate artistic categories; namely, images relating to the present, to the recent past, and to the ancient world of our ancestors.

Matulu’s portrayal of Zaire’s past focused primarily on important political events, including the capturing of Patrice Lumumba, the Congolese politician. The series is not necessarily an exact depiction of historical situations, but rather Matulu’s personal take on what he himself knew of these events, based on the books he had read, and the stories he had been told.

As he did not always have the necessary resources to check whether his own visual accounts were correct, there are some images which are said to be inaccurate. However, a number of art experts contend that Matulu made these mistakes deliberately, as a means of forcing those who look at these paintings to initiate discussions, and to question what they have been told by those in power. Matulu’s final historical images portray life in Zaire during the 1970s, but he also chose to include a few extra pieces, which show his own hopes and dreams for the future; in these, it is clear that Matulu wished for country with starkly different social relations, and a state which places less emphasis on religion.

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