Text by Philippe Pirotte
Published on the occasion of the 2000 exhibition at David Zwirner in New York, this catalogue documents Luc Tuymans’s fourth solo show at the gallery. After its showing in New York, the artist expanded this body of work to exhibit at the Belgium Pavilion of the 2001 Venice Biennale, where he was chosen to represent his country.
Mwana Kitoko examines the colonial history of Belgium, by focusing on the colonization of Zaire, previously known as the Belgian Congo. In his 1999 book entitled De moord op Lumumba (The death of Lumumba), Ludo de Witte makes the allegation that various institutions, including the Belgian government, were responsible for the 1961 murder of the Congo’s first legally elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, shortly after gaining independence. As a result of this publication, the “Lumumba Commission” was set up to investigate the matter further.
The exhibition’s title refers to the derogatory nickname Mwana Kitoko, i.e. beautiful boy, which was given to Belgian’s young King Baudoin by the Congolese, and which was promptly changed by the Congolese authorities to the more respectful and authoritative Bwana Kitoko, i.e. beautiful, noble man. The painting entitled Mwana Kitoko is a life-size portrait of the 24-year old Baudouin in a crisp white suit, arriving for the first time in the Congo for a four-week triumphant procession in 1955. The authority suggested by Baudoin’s uniform and his medals is contradicted by the featureless youthful face of the king, and his awkward and uncomfortable pose.
Here Tuymans explores a politically charged subject matter by employing a subtle and remote realization of specific events and people. Although the subject matter in this work refers specifically to regional history, the artist’s choice of paintings for this group of work invites parallels to recent American history. The racial divide apparent in the United States, reverberates throughout this body of work.