Bodys Isek Kingelez



Not on display

Bodys Isek Kingelez 1948–2015
Cardboard, paper, ink and plastic
Object: 840 × 600 × 200 mm
Purchased with funds provided by Tate Patrons and Mercedes Vilardell 2019


Untitled 2001 is a sculpture made from 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 155. Amango Bank 2001, Tate T15270).

The form of Untitled 2001 is perfectly symmetrical but also fantastical, a vision of a future modernity that is harmonious and peaceful. A triangular sail-like shape is attached at three points to circular bases, which sit upon a yellow and white platform. This work features many characteristics of Kingelez’s work including crisp white stars and meticulously executed gridded ink lines, which recall both exercise books and floor tiles. Yellow and blue are the dominant colours, while red is used sparingly for highlights. Given that Kingelez’s output was shaped by post-independence politics in his home country, it is worth noting that the flag of the first Republic of Mobutu Sese Seko was blue with a yellow star and a red diagonal stripe, with the red symbolising the blood of the people’s sacrifice; yellow, prosperity; and blue, hope (, accessed 8 October 2018). On the side of the sculpture, ‘JAN5’ is inscribed in white capital letters, indicating the date in 2001 on which the work was completed. On the other side, towards the base of the maquette, is a gold and black Parisian label for a jewellery company ‘Desir d’Or’ (desire of gold) that has been carefully applied. The soaring sail-like form, which is dark blue on one face and white on the other, is topped with a stack of flat rectangular gold shapes, crowned with a fin-like shape and decorated with small blue stars. 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.)

The base of Untitled 2001 opens to reveal the artist’s signature and inventory number. 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 Untitled 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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