Bodys Isek Kingelez, born in Congo in 1948, is on the fringe of the African art scene. Made of glued together, coloured and decorated cardboard, paper and other materials, his architectural models (“extrêmes maquettes" / “extreme models") are not imitations of European or African ones, old or new, but uniquely rich combinations of European forms, African styles and hues, classical European ornamentation and futuristic forms.
Kingelez always works carefully to scale, balancing the proportions of his composite buildings. Keen to let folk live and work together, he mostly designs buildings in which spiritual, intellectual, family, material and playful needs can be satisfied in company.
The Parisian gallery owner Jean-Marc Patras recalls his first meeting with him: “Even before seeing any of Kingelez´ works, I was enthralled by his speech which was like a rising spiral, expansive, well considered and organised and yet, in seeming to be ecstatic and bizarre, was hard for me to grasp. On staying in Kinshasa on later occasions, I never neglected to visit Bodys, and gradually, after listening to him attentively for hours, I found my way into his world, his logic and dialectic. I thus realised that his speech is like his artistry - rich, fantastic and clear - but, as with architecture, whose forms - if not its techniques - we know, I had to learn in my own language the words, sentences and forms anew. I had to adapt.”
Kingelez´ career began in the 60s in devising new techniques for restoring traditional masks in the National Museum of Kinshasa. Jean Marc-Patras believes that this regular contact with “old stuff” much admired by whites may have driven him to create fine modern stuff of his own to catch whites´ attention. After all, why should they esteem only shabby old works and not modern ones in the same African spirit?
After losing his job as a restorer, Kingelez spent months at the start of the 70s in meticulously making architectural models which he called “extrêmes maquettes” (“extreme models”), as they were extremely strange, high, fine and meaningful.
For a long time Bodys Isek Kingelez had no chance of exhibiting or selling his works, but he kept on and has now made more than 300 of them as part of a colourful, optimistic and illusory world. They are all signed, numbered, dated and tagged with programmatic names like “Red Star”, “Barcelona Post-Office”, “Pacific Art”, “Orient”, “Bel Atlas”, “France” and so on, which relate many of them to certain regions. His comments read like advertising blurbs or traditional African praise-poetry. He wrote for instance about “Orient”:
”In the case of this comprehensive and masterfully developed architectural concept, whose great professionalism bears witness to its passion, I am most deeply impressed by the great range of imagination which has brought forth such a wonder, such a superb creation engendered by the sensibility of a highly gifted artist who yearns, through a new formal language, to help make a better world for the rising generation.”
Like many other artists in his homeland, Kingelez hankers to be free from the stylistic constraints of a government which, he believes, is guided too greatly by images of Africa in the eyes of the rest of the world.
In his manifesto “The Art of the Model - an erudite Art” - Kingelez puts his approach in a nutshell: “I make this most deeply imaginary, meticulous and well considered work with the aim of having more influence over life. As a black artist I must set a good example by receiving the light which pure art, this vital human instrument, kindles for the sake of all. Thanks to my deep hope for a happy tomorrow, I strive to better my quality, and the better becomes the wonderful. I exhibit a mode of expression which fits me like a glove, and I point out that I am another artist.”
Bodys Isek Kingelez´ actual name is Jean-Baptiste. He was born in 1948 in Kimbembelelhunga, Congo, and lives with his children and two wives - Madam Bodys and Madam Kingelez, as he calls them - in a hilly borough of the capital, Kinshasa.
Bodys Isek Kingelez studied neither art nor architecture and turned to model-making only at the start of the 70s after having lost his job as a restorer of traditional masks in the National Museum of Kinshasa. Through many months of painstaking work, he created a unique collection of paper and cardboard buildings, which he called "extrêmes maquettes". By now he has created more than 300 of them.
Invited by André Magnin, he travelled to Paris for the first time in 1989, to present his works at the exhibition "Les Magiciens de la Terre" ("Earth´s Magicians"). Thanks also to commercial promotion by the Parisian gallery owner Jean Marc Patras, he can now make his living through art. His work was exhibited in 1991 in Las Palmas (Spain) and in 1992 in Groningen (Holland) and in Mexico.
Group Exhibitions (Choice)
Exhibition / Installation
"Africa Remix“, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan
"The Theatre of Art”, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany
"Vivre l’Afrique“, Galerie du Jour Agnès B, Paris, France
"Africa Remix“, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
"Africa Remix“, Hayward Gallery, London, Great Britain
"Afrika Remix“, Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf, Germany
"Unbuilt Cities", Kunstverein Bonn, Bonn, Germany
"Documenta XI", Documenta, Kassel, Germany
"Biennale de Sao Paulo", Biennale de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil
"The Short Century“, House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany
"Vision du Futur", Grand Palais, Paris, France
"The 1999 Carnegie International", Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, USA
"Un monde réel", Fondation Cartier pour l´Art Contemporain, Paris, France
"Arts-Worlds in Dialogue", Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany
"Zeitwenden", Kunsthaus, Vienna, Austria
"Africa Africa", Tobu Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan
"Unfinished Story", Walker Art Center, Mineapolis, USA
"Project 59 : Architecture as Metaphor", Musée d´art moderne, New York, USA
"Africus", Biennale de Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa
"Neue Kunst Aus Africa", House of Cultures, Berlin, Germany
"Wall and Space Reality and Utopia Bodys - Isek Kingelez´s Architectural Visions", Oksnehallen, Copenhagen, Denmark
"Big City", Serpentine Gallery, London, Great Britain
"Home and the World Architectural Scultpure by two African Artists", The Museum for African Art, New York, USA
"Out of Africa ", Saatchi Gallery, London, Great Britain
"Africa Hoy", Centro de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas de gran Canaria, Spain
"Magiciens de la terre ", Centre Georges Pompidou / La Grande Halle de la Villette, Paris, France
Solo Exhibitions (Choice)
Exhibition / Installation
"Bodys Isek Kingelez“, Villa Stuck, Munich, Germany
"Bodys Isek Kingelez“, Kunstverein, Hamburg, Germany
"D´autres ajouts d´été", Musée d´Art Moderne et contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland
"Bodys Isek Kingelez", Fondation Cartier pour l´Art Contemporain, Paris, France
"Bodys Isek Kingelez", House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa
(18 May 01 - 29 July 01)
(24 January 90 - 30 January 94)