Bodys Isek Kingelez made architectural models from paper, cardboard and plastic, integrating in them various ready-made products. Using exclusively manual work, comprised of cutouts, pasting and joining, Kingelez managed to create a futuristic, utopic view of Africa. Kingelez was born in a village, moved to Kinshasa in 1970, and during his early years in the city observed its uncontrolled growth, as it became a wild, chaotic urban space. In 1977, he began building models of fantastic structures that attempted to offer a solution (or as he termed it “redemption”) for Kinshasa’s urban anarchy; in 1992 he began making models of whole cities, some spreading over huge spaces.
Kingelez built models of 140 buildings and seven cities, the first one named after his birthplace. The making of each such model took several months, during which he was wholly focused on work, sinking into a trance-like state. As his models grew, so their futuristic utopic aspect grew, as well as the political facet at the core of their production.
Over a model of an airport hangs the name of Zaire’s national airways, whose history is closely and intricately linked with the liberation from Belgian rule (Air Zaire, 1992); Hiroshima Palace (1991) is a structure made of Japanese pagodas that seems like a fantasy set deep in apocalyptic anxiety; and Mongolique sovietique (1989); first shown at the “Magiciens de la terre” [Magicians of the World] exhibition in Paris, 1989) unites the star from Congo’s flag with geometric forms in the style of Soviet Constructivism. From his seat in Kinshasa, Kingelez referred to cities and buildings throughout the world, and in his hands they all became ideally constructed spaces that invalidate the gap between the First World and the Third.
The urban models contain towers, squares, gardens, water tunnels, stadia and stairs but no police stations, cemeteries or traffic jams, and especially no people who might disturb or disrupt. The fact that there is something unreasonable in these cities did not prevent Kingelez from fervently believing in their possible existence, at least as a model of ideal cities. The unexpected combination of low-tech technique with daring formalism and ideology creates the special esthetic of Kingelez’ works, and their intensity, which is concurrently childish and avant-garde. Faith in the future becomes a critical tool. Kingelez’ Afro-futurism used futuristic utopia for a critical observation of reality or, in fact, for an observation beyond and above reality.
1948 Kimbembele Ihunga, Belgian Congo
Lived and worked in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, died in 2015