Bodys Isek Kingelez

155. Amango Bank


Not on display

Bodys Isek Kingelez 1948–2015
Paper, cardboard, plastic and ink
Object: 760 × 260 × 180 mm
Purchased with assistance from Mercedes Vilardell 2019


155. Amango Bank 2001 is a sculpture made from plastic, cardboard and paper. It is an example of what the artist referred to as his ‘extreme maquettes’, fantastical utopian architectural constructions created from everyday and found materials which he meticulously repurposed. In such sculptures Kingelez offered an optimistic alternative to his experience of urban life in his home city of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo which, like many African cities, grew exponentially and haphazardly in the post-colonial period (see also Untitled 2001, Tate T15222).

This sculpture has an overall asymmetrical form that features a tall, predominantly white tower with a blue rectangular fin and stepped semi-circular spire. The title of the work is hand-inscribed prominently on the building in bold capital letters. The spire is decorated with a small horse-like symbol in blue paint and a red number and is topped with a striped flag. Wrapping around part of the blue fin is a transparent rectangular structure, which has been carefully gridded with black marker pen to resemble a glass office block, a technique that characterises many of the artist’s constructions. The two forms are decorated with blue or white stars, which also border the red and white base on which the towers sit. Of the star, which was one of the most prevalent motifs in his work, Kingelez wrote: ‘It’s … the ultimate symbol of wisdom … It’s a magisterial symbol for which All Powerful God The Creator communicated to His people on earth [and] … it’s the representation of equilibrium on earth.’ (Quoted in Marion Laval-Jeantet, Benoît Mangin and Anaïd Demir, Veilleurs du Monde: Gbêdji kpontolè, Paris 1998, p.128.)

From the late 1970s until 1985 Kingelez worked as a self-taught restorer at the Institut des Musées Nationaux du Zaïre (IMNZ, now the Institut des Musées Nationaux du Congo). From his time there, he knew the importance of cataloguing artworks and painstakingly numbered, signed and dated the sculptures he made (Museum of Modern Art 2018, p.15). Kingelez believed strongly in civic responsibility and many of his titles refer to the administrative, political, governmental or, in this case, financial functions necessary for a successful democratic state (Museum of Modern Art 2018, p.12). His work was also frequently informed by current affairs and often conceived in response to real buildings or places. Although made when the artist was living in France, it is significant that 155. Amango Bank was constructed in 2001, the same year that stabilisation measures were implemented in the Democratic Republic of Congo, marking the beginning of economic recovery after decades of mismanagement, conflict and instability.

While this work is not Kingelez’s most complex or elaborate, it is exemplary of how he sought to radically rethink the world around him, challenging the boundaries between sculpture, architecture and design to propose a vision for a better world. He said: ‘Art is the rare product of great reflection, movement and imagination. Art is a high form of knowledge, a vehicle for individual renewal that contributes to a better collective future.’ (‘Artist’s Statement’, in Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston 2005, p.9.) Sarah Suzuki, curator of the artist’s retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2018, has written: ‘His work addressed the great challenges of the twentieth century – decolonization, health crises, the quest for nationhood and national identity – but it is infused with potential, both philosophical and formal. In his hands, new, cooperative ways of living and working were possible, and the most mundane of materials could become technically precise, inventive, and elegant objects.’ (Museum of Modern Art 2018, p.28.)

Further reading
‘Artist’s Statement’, in Perspectives 145: Bodys Isek Kingelez, exhibition catalogue, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston 2005.
Sarah Suzuki (ed), Bodys Isek Kingelez, exhibition catalogue, The Museum of Modern Art, New York 2018.

Kerryn Greenberg
October 2018

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