Authentically African: Art and Postcolonial Cultural Politics in Mobutu's Zaire. A lecture by Sarah Van Beurden


From 22 July 2017




Garage Auditorium


Sarah Van Beurden, Associate Professor at the Ohio State University, discusses the Congo’s cultural policies under Mobutu Sese Seko.

In 1971, President Mobutu of Zaire (former Belgian Congo, today’s Democratic Republic of Congo) declared the cultural politics of authenticité (authenticity) to be the official ideology of the state. It attempted to reorient the country’s cultural identity to so-called authentic indigenous African values, with the professed goal of ending the cultural alienation caused by the colonial experience This lecture will explore how, in the context of these authenticity politics, Mobutu’s regime used both historical and modern arts to construct and promote Zaire’s postcolonial cultural sovereignty, at home as well as internationally.

Cultural institutions like the museum and the art academy played a central role in the formulation of national canon that excluded much of the work of the Popular Painters on display at Garage today, despite the international interest in these painters. Instead, it emphasized so-called traditional arts as a national cultural resource and promoted a modernism developed by a group of artists who organized themselves under the name ‘Zairian Avant-Gardistes’.


Sarah Van Beurden is an Associate Professor of history and African studies at the Ohio State University. After completing her undergraduate studies in Belgium, she obtained a Ph.D. in history from the University of Pennsylvania (USA.) She is the author of Authentically African: Arts and the Transnational Politics of Congolese Culture (2015), edited a recent issue of Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture on "Postcolonial Cultural Politics," and has written several chapters and articles on Congolese history, African cultural heritage, museums, and contemporary Congolese art. She is a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, where she is a member of the "Histories of Planning" workgroup and editorial collective.


Free admission with advance registration