A dialogue with the collection
Perhaps we don’t give it much thought anymore, but the truth is that there are a considerable number of monuments in Belgian public space that commemorate Belgium’s colonial past. In honour of King Leopold II's Congo Free State up to and including Congo's independence in 1960 – these monuments continue to occupy this space today. Jan Kempenaers selected and photographed around forty of them. As a whole, these could be looked at as an inventory, a collection of images once placed as self-justification of the system. However, Jan Kempenaers is no archivist or documentary photographer, rather he is an artist on a quest for the ultimate image. Sometimes there is a view of the whole statue, while at other times it may be only partial. The black and white images create an abstraction and a fusion between monument and background. Kempenaers does not make stationary portraits confirming their legitimacy, instead the series calls their status into question. What more do these images tell us today about the past? Do they still belong in the Belgian public space? As from 2006, Jan Kempenaers visited former Yugoslavia, where he focussed on abstract communist monuments, called Spomenici. These awe-inspiring sculptures are randomly dispersed throughout the landscape, mostly in remote locations in the mountains and forests, spots where General Tito and the Partisan Army once battled the occupying forces. Kempenaers’ inventory of these sculptures – christened Spomenik – returned these grand statutes to the public eye, and in doing so also rekindled an interest in the stories and meanings of yesterday and today that accompany them.
Jan Kempenaers has assembled this collection of colonial monuments here in dialogue with a number of images from his Spomenik series and the works of art present in the Mu.ZEE collection. The entirety of this artistic endeavour is also reflected in a publication co-produced with Roma Publications.