24 x 36 in.
ABOUT THE WORK:
Portraits of Patrice Lumumba and King Leopold by CKWilde
After reading the book King Leopold’s Ghosts by Adam Hochschild, I was driven to create two pieces of art in response. It was 2015 and Black Lives Matter was beginning to assert itself on the national stage as well. It struck me that the murderous and dehumanizing effects of state power are just as manifest here in the USA now as they were in Leopold’s time and Lumumba’s. I have made other works about capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism; but these were much more didactic in their symbolism.
In the portrait of Leopold he is made up entirely from images of hands; hands to symbolize the labor of millions that made his wealth, but also his rapacious greed and lustful manipulation. The background is made up of various eras of torn maps of the Congo as it changed from European interference; to symbolize the projection of power at a distance, and the cavalier redrawing of national boundaries without input from the indigenous population.
The portrait of Patrice Lumumba is comprised of maps of Africa. This symbolizes the Pan-African movement that he was a proponent of; and that was so threatening to the multinational colonial forces arrayed against him and his fellow political comrades. The symbolism extends to how violently Africa has been treated by the west as well; obliterated, fractured, and recombined by brutal interference from multinational capitalism. The background is comprised of hands all grasping, clawing, and reaching towards him as a gesture of unquenchable desire and attempts at control.
These collages are a matched set as my perspective is that these two men are insolubly linked in space and in time. Leopold’s genocide and rape of the Congo with Lumumba as it’s first democratically elected leader. The echoes of torture and murder of the place were recreated on the person symbolic of the agency of its people. This story is specific to these two men, but emblematic of western capitalism’s effrontery on human decency all over Africa. The systematic narrative of devaluation of black lives continues unabated, and privilege is built on the suffering of the “other”. My attempt to create work that problematizes that narrative is an attempt to recognize my complicity and offer up compassion and solidarity to those who suffer.
ARTIST STATEMENT: CHRISTOPHER WILDE
Based on a woodcut image of a slave in chains from 1837, from a broadside of John Greenleaf Whittier's antislavery poem, "Our Countrymen in Chains." The design was adopted as the seal of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery in England in the 1780s.
The composition of this medallion is perfect. Full of drama and pathos, as well as a plea of empathetic compassion. The choice of this image resonates because of its historical significance as an abolitionist broadside addressing the crime of the slave trade; but also, when recreated out of currency it alludes to questions about value, trade, economics, and imperialism. A further question hovers: does capitalism make slaves of us all?