Bodys Isek Kingelez, “City Dreams” Exhibit
The gallery space at the MoMa is engulfed in all white, with dimly lit walls and echoing tiled floors. The display tables are white and curved, evoking a modernist aesthetic as they snake around the room. Atop the tables sit maquettes made of paper, cardboard, soda cans, and recycled packaging. In a museum that is home to work by arts such as Piet Mondrian, Andy Warhol, and Marcel Duchamp, the work of Bodys Isek Kingelez’s “City Dreams” feels juxtaposed in it’s playfulness. His gallery space is open and inviting. The intricacies of the buildings’ color and texture beg to be explored.
The 1970’s signaled the end of Belgium ruled Zaire (now the Peoples Republic of Congo), and the beginning of the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko. This newfound independence was set against a global backdrop of racial desegregation in schools in America, The Vietnam war, and the moon landing. The 70’s encompassed a mix of hope and horror, as human ingenuity soared in tandem with monstrous imagination. Kingelez began making these model cities of “extreme maquettes” as a response to the political turmoil he was living through. Disagreeing with the dictatorship that Zaire was now under, he used these maquetes to propose an alternate reality for his country–one of art, architecture, and idealism, or as he states, “A better, more peaceful world.”
The glittering multicolored metropolis is an idyllic version of Africa. From a distance, the structures have an appearance closer to that of a popup book than of an architectural model. They are an explosion of color, texture, and unorthodox materials such as construction paper, aluminum cans, and styrofoam. His piece Kimbembele Ihu is build of layers upon layers of paper and cardboard. It is a homage to his hometown, bearing little physical resemblance to the actual village, but using villager names on some of the buildings to pay tribute. He reimagines this farming village as a utopian metropolis with tall skyscrapers and cylindrical structures. In this piece, he channels his hopes of what his village could become.
Ville Fantóme, in contrast, is a looming cityscape with twisting roads, and a dizzying array of details. He imagines this city as one without crime or sickness, thus there is no need for police or doctors. Ville Fantome also includes buildings that proudly proclaim his interest in international affairs. A metallic red, white, and blue skyscraper reads “USA”, another reflective structure reads “Canada” at the base, and a smaller angular building reads “Seoul.” In addition, he includes a separate part of the city for the dead, connected by a narrow bridge. When even the dead are welcome, it’s hard to argue his vision of inclusion.
There is a hopefulness to Kingelez’s work, and with good reason. He’s taking this opportunity of political transition to try and build a better society, one build of colors and skyscrapers, and one of inclusion for all. He sees this fictional place as a heaven on earth. It’s the return of humanity to Eden, as they are stripped from sin and given a second chance.