Introduction – Inhabiting the Imaginary
My father, who immigrated to Canada in the 1960s, said something to me about the value of living in different places. He said it was like living more than one lifetime. This idea resonates in my heart and mind whenever I encounter the art of Moridja Kitenge Banza. Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo also known as the DRC, Kitenge Banza left to study art in France, and then travelled further, to Montréal, Québec, Canada, where he has lived for over a decade. His personal experience of these different places has shaped the development of an artistic approach that involves a deep exploration of the histories and memories that affect national and cultural identity. Through a multidisciplinary practice that includes painting, photography, video, drawing, and installation, he investigates the political, cultural, and social aspects of the “terrain,” as would a land surveyor, to map the boundaries and markers of a place’s dynamics of power. In essence, as Diane Gistal has written, “he re-imagines territories through the prism of individual history.” Kitenge Banza also consistently employs a semi-fictional approach, which brings fact and fiction together to problematize dominant narratives and make space for the flourishing of marginalized discourses. The title of the exhibition, conceived by the artist, efficiently encapsulates the modus operandi of his practice; to dwell in the space of the imaginary, which becomes a space of agency.
G1 – Chiromancie (2008–ongoing)
For this exhibition, Kitenge Banza proposes a large body of new work, in line with his ongoing explorations of uneven power dynamics shaped by global political and economic forces. On the first two floors of the 451 Saint-Jean Street building are two new painting series, rooted in his larger Chiromancie or Chiromancy project started in 2008. Consisting of ink on Mylar or acrylic on canvas, these works draw on a methodology that combines cartography with palmistry or chiromancy.
Cartography has long been a tool of colonial domination and control, and the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885 is a key example for the artist. Also known as “the scramble for Africa,” this event is when European imperialist powers redrew the map of Africa, effectively carving up its territories amongst themselves without any consideration for local cultures and ethnic groups. Palmistry or chiromancy is the divinatory art of analyzing the physical features of the hand in order to interpret personality characteristics and predict the future, as hands are considered to be portals that reveal vast knowledge. In the creation of these works, the artist gains insight into his future, in light of his own travels. Following the three lines of his left hand, he deploys his brush in one continuous movement, until the ink or acrylic runs out. This line reveals the beginning and ending of a journey.
In these new paintings, Kitenge Banza builds on this methodology to draw comparisons between the history of colonization and the political and economic relationship it has with mining in both the DRC and Québec.
The works in this gallery explore the impact of mining of precious minerals, which has been at the root of armed conflicts in the DRC for over twenty years. These conflicts have devastated the environment and local communities, creating massive instability for the region. In making these works, the artist aimed to integrate these complex realities into landscapes that offer a personal, alternative vision of the way that land is perceived and experienced as a result of colonialism. Each of these works mixes fictional events with real incidents that profoundly affected communities in the south and east of the Congo. These topographies become new entities instantiated by the artist’s past and current emotionally charged experiences.
G2 – Chiromancie (2008–ongoing)
Here we are presented with another set of new Chiromancies related to the province of Québec, where Kitenge Banza currently resides. Referencing his photo work Authentique #2 from 2019 and aerial photos taken during his winter travels, he reflects on his journey living in Québec, a place that, like his homeland, has a colonialist past and history of exploiting natural resources.
Inspired by the work of Canadian historian and geographer Harold Innis and French geographer Paul Vidal de La Blache, who both studied the relationship between resource exploitation and territorial development, the artist explores how these dynamics manifest in the Québec context.
Employing a wintery palette, he integrates satellite views of open mines in Northern Québec and the areas around them, with the lines of his hand. This symbolic fusing of his body’s lines and the transforming landscape, underscores the links between the individual and the land. It also exposes the complex interaction between the mining of natural resources and the subsequent devastating effects on the environment and communities—frequently Indigenous—that live there. These formally stunning works on both of these floors offer a reflection on current geopolitical situations and the invasive forces that harm and displace people, forever transforming the land.
G3 – Cycle (2023)
In September 2018, Kitenge Banza experienced direct racial discrimination for the first time. Deeply affected by the event, he wondered how to free himself and move on. This event challenged the way he inhabits space and place, and inspired a new work called Cycle.
This new installation takes the form of the reception area of a fictional corporation called Cycle that specializes in the recycling of racism and includes a corporate video, brochures, and a display of artifacts to explain their innovative, patented process.
According to the brochure, Cycle obtained BCorp certification in 2019 and is a world leader in the field. Thanks to its patented process, Cycle is able to recycle ideology that starts with the assumption that “race” exists within the human species. Racism is identified as a raw material, like gold, diamonds, sugar, or coffee, that are linked with value and generate profit. This reference to profit refers to a capitalist system based on private ownership of the means of production, supply and demand, as well as the pursuit of profit and the accumulation of wealth.
G4 – Hymne à nous (2009)
Bringing the whole exhibition together is a site-specific audio intervention in our main stairwell that culminates in a presentation of the artist’s award-winning video work Hymne à nous (2009) presented here. This piece weaves phrases from four different national anthems to the tune of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. An ensemble of 30 voices, each one is sung by the artist in four-part harmony, affirming the plurality of the self. The lyrics take various fragments as their source material: a fictional speech by King Leopold II to incite missionaries to evangelize Congolese territory; Friedrich Schiller’s original Ode to Joy; and the Congolese, Belgian, and French national anthems. In the video, the artist appears nude to pay homage to the Luba warriors—his ancestors who fought without clothing. Moreover, Kitenge Banza lays bare his authentic self in this video, a combination of all the interior and exterior influences that have informed the multiplicity and ambivalent complexity of his identity.