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Biography of Bodys ISEK KINGELEZ

Congo-Kinshasa > Arts : Bodys ISEK KINGELEZ

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Biography :

Bodys Isek Kingelez is an artist from Democratic Republic of Congo.

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.”

Last update : 07/17/2007

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