Umetnost in krščanstvo v Centralni Afriki

Tina Palaić

Božič bi namesto decembra morali praznovati 25. maja. Tako vsaj verjamejo – in ga takrat tudi praznujejo – pripadniki Kimbanguistične cerkve (moj prevod). Kimbanguizem je religijsko gibanje, ki ga je ustanovil Simon Kimbangu v Belgijskem Kongu leta 1921. Kimbanguistična cerkev je z več milijoni vernikov ena od vej krščanstva.


Simon Kimbangu je interpretiral Biblijo in napovedal zaton kolonializma. Belgijci so ga obtožili spodbujanja rasizma, neustreznega vedenja in kršitve javnega reda. Obsodili so ga na smrt, a je ostal v ujetništvu do svoje smrti leta 1951. Kljub poskusom, da bi gibanje zatrli, ta cerkev še vedno deluje. Bori se proti poligamiji, magiji in čarovništvu, prav tako pa tudi proti uporabi nasilja in uživanju alkohola ter tobaka.


Kimbanguistična cerkev je le eden od pojavov, ki so rezultat srečanja kongovskih ljudstev iz Centralne Afrike s krščansko religijo. Majhna, a izjemno zanimiva začasna razstava v pariškem Musee du Quai Branly z naslovom ‘Od reke Jordan do reke Kongo: umetnost in krščanstvo v Centralni Afriki’ nam pripoveduje o vplivih 500-letnega pokristjanjevanja ljudstev na obsežnem ozemlju današnjega Gabona, Angole, Demokratične republike Kongo in Konga. Pokaže nam, kako so kongovski vladarji in umetniki interpretirali in uporabljali krščansko ikonografijo. Večina predmetov na razstavi priča o povezovanju krščanskih podob z močjo – na primer, predmete s krščansko simboliko so uporabljali za legitimizacijo moči vladarjev, v sodnih zadevah, pri klicanju dežja in tudi kot talismane, ki naj bi zagotovili uspešnost različnih aktivnosti, med drugim potovanj, lova in spočetja.

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Kopija ‘Santo Agostinho Padrão’, kamnitega stebra, ki ga je postavil portugalski pomorščak Diogo Cão leta 1482, ko je prispel do Kraljestva Kongo.

Kustos razstave je opredelil tri obdobja pokristjanjevanja Centralne Afrike:

  • med 15. in 18. stoletjem: Portugalci so dosegli ozemlje Kraljestva Kongo leta 1482. Čeprav so tudi Nizozemci in Francozi okupirali določena področja, je bilo do pričetka kolonializma Portugalcev v Centralni Afriki največ. Glavni razlog za vzpostavitev stikov je bilo trgovanje, Portugalska pa je poleg tega podpirala tudi različne misijonske redove, ki so na tem ozemlju širili krščanstvo. Spreobrnitev se je v Kraljestvu Kongo zgodila izjemno hitro. Eden od razlogov za to je bila odločitev političnih voditeljev, da bodo sprejeli novo vero, saj so v njej videli vir za povečanje svoje politične moči. Ker je bila spreobrnitev predvsem strategija vladajočega razreda, ki je služila uresničevanju njihovih političnih in verskih ciljev, ni nikoli izpodrinila lokalnih verovanj.
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Nkangi kiditu, razpelo kongovskega vladarja, okrašeno s sekundarnimi figurami, ki imajo sklenjene roke. Razpela so legitimirala moč njihovih lastnikov v družbi. 17. stoletje.

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V začetku 18. stoletja se je mlada kongovska princesa Kimpa Vita zavzemala za novo obliko krščanstva. Vzpostavila je religiozno in politično gibanje, kasneje imenovano Antonianizem. Podobne skulpture, kot je ta na sliki, so dopolnjevale vlogo Kimpa Vite pri spodbujanju ponovne združitve in krepitve Konga. Ta kipec je sicer iz 20. stoletja.

  • kolonialno obdobje: svoj vrh je kolonializem dosegel z Berlinsko konferenco (1884-1885). Različna kongovska ljudstva so takrat postala odvisna od Portugalske, Francije in Kraljevine Belgije. Mnogo predmetov na razstavi prikazuje umetnost iz tega obdobja, ki so jo navdihnili elementi krščanske vere. Ko se je pričelo to drugo obdobje pokristjanjevanja, seveda v tesni povezavi s kolonialnim redom, so iz prvotnega obdobja evangelizacije ostale predvsem materialne, formalne in jezikovne sledi, manj je bilo duhovnih.
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Ženska ogrlica z razpelom, prva četrtina 20. stoletja.

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Ntadi, pogrebni kipec s križem okoli vratu in kapo z leopardjimi kremplji, atributom vladarjev. 20. stoletje.

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Križ Santu iz vzhodnega Konga, pozno 19. – zgodnje 20. stoletje. Tovrstni križi so bili prvenstveno namenjeni zagotavljanju uspešnega lova.

  • od 1960, 1970 naprej: širitev novih, tako imenovanih cerkev preporoda, ki so jih spodbudile ekonomske in politične krize na območju današnje Demokratične republike Kongo. Njihova značilnost je, da prekinjajo povezave s preteklostjo in tradicijo. Kimbanguistična cerkev, ki sem jo predstavila na začetku, spada mednje. Na razstavi je zadnja soba namenjena prikazu fenomenov iz tega obdobja, razstavljene pa so tudi umetniške interpretacije Pierra Bodoja.
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Kongovski slikar Pierre Bodo (1953-2015), La Possession Demoniaque, 2000. Bodo je bil župnik v Binkoštni cerkvi, kar je vplivalo na njegovo izbiro likovnih elementov.

Mislim, da je kustos razstave Julien Volper, specialist za podsaharsko Afriko v Royal Museum of Central Africa v Tervurnu, odlično poudaril njeno bistveno sporočilo – prilagoditev krščanstva posebnostim lokalnih kultur.


Krščanske ikonografije in praks kongovska ljudstva niso zgolj prevzela. Razstavljeni predmeti nam kažejo, kako so lokalni umetniki reinterpretirali krščansko ikonografijo, prav tako pa tudi katoliške prakse niso ostale nespremenjene, temveč so bile transformirane v religiozni sinkretizem. Kot je zapisano na spletni strani muzeja, lahko kongovsko kulturno interpretacijo krščanstva razumemo kot “enega od simbolov emancipacije navkljub evropski nadvladi”.


Z razkrivanjem vidikov tvornosti oziroma lastnega delovanja (agency) kongovskih ljudstev ob njihovem stiku s krščansko religijo nam kustos omogoča preizpraševati imperialistične in rasistične elemente evolucionarnega diskurza oziroma tako imenovanega narativa napredka, ki je še danes močno prisoten. Po mojem mnenju ta razstava uspešno prikaže, kako lahko stiki med različnimi religioznimi in kulturnimi koncepti prinesejo nekaj novega, spodbujajo kreativnost in ustvarijo nove poglede na svet, v katerem živimo. To je pomembno sporočilo za današnji čas. Na srečo je za tiste med nami, ki ne govorimo francosko – samo glavni panoji so prevedeni v angleščino – na voljo katalog razstave tako v francoščini kot angleščini.

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Očitno je razstava navdušila obiskovalca, ki je v knjigo gostov narisal tole risbo.

Ko sem se sprehajala po razstavi, sem se spomnila na zelo posebno izkušnjo, ki sem jo doživela z mojo dobro prijateljico na potovanju v Gani. Naključno sva naleteli na krščansko cerkev v mestu Tamale, kjer so naju povabili k maši. Zelo prijazno so naju sprejeli in naju prosili, da se predstaviva. Po tem sva lahko pri maši tudi aktivno sodelovali. Njihova Biblija me je najbolj presenetila, saj je bila zelo drugačna od meni poznane. Zgodbe so bile glede na njihovo sporočilo razvrščene v več poglavij: zdravje, družina, ljubezen, moč, skušnjava … Poskušala sem brati poglavje o skušnjavi, a mi je gospa, ki je sedela ob meni, ves čas obračala strani, da bi sledila branju na maši …

 

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Art and Christianity in Central Africa

Tina Palaić

Christmas should be celebrated on 25 May instead of December. At least that is what members of the Kimbanguist Church believe – and also practice. Kimbanguism is a religious movement founded by Simon Kimbangu in the Belgian Congo in 1921. With several millions of believers, Kimbanguist Church is considered a branch of Christianity.


Simon Kimbangu interpreted the Bible and prophesied the end of the colonial order. Belgian colonialists accused him of encouraging racism, uncivil behavior and offending public order, as well as condemned him to death. However, he stayed in captivity until his death in 1951. Despite attempts to suppress the movement, Kimbanguism has survived. Kimbanguist Church fights against the polygamy, magic and witchcraft, as well as use of violence, alcohol and tobacco.


Kimbanguist Church is merely one of the consequences of the encounter of the Kongo peoples of the Central Africa with Christian religion. Small, but very exciting temporary exhibition at the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris, entitled ‘From the Jordan River to the Congo River: Art and Christianity in Central Africa’, tells us about the influences of 500 years of Christianization of the vast territory of today’s Gabon, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo. We can see how Christian iconography was interpreted and used by Kongo rulers and artists – many of the objects connected Christian imagery with the power. For instance, cruciform objects were used to legitimize the power of leaders, in judicial decisions, rainmaking, and as talismans to assure successful activities – traveling, hunting, and conception. 

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A copy of Santo Agostinho Padrão, stone pillar, erected by Portuguese Diogo Cão in 1482, when he reached the Kingdom of Congo.

Curator defines three evangelisation periods of Central Africa:

  • between the 15th and the 18th centuries: the Portuguese reached the Kingdom of Kongo in 1482 and remained the main European population (also the Dutch and the French occupied certain areas) in the area until the beginning of colonial era. The main reason for contacts was trading however, Portugal also supported different missionary orders to spread Christianity. The conversion of the Kingdom of Congo happened quickly – one of the reasons is that political leadership decided to embrace the new religion, as they saw it as a source of their greater political power. Conversion was mainly a ruling classes’ strategy to serve their political and religious ends, therefore it never eradicated local beliefs.
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Nkangi kiditu, a crucifix of the Congo chief, with secondary figures with joined hands. Crucifixes legitimized the power of their owners. 17th century.

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In the early years of the 18th century, a young Kongo princess named Kimpa Vita promoted a new form of Christianity. She began a religious and political movement, later called Antonianism. Sculptures like this one complement the role of Kimpa Vita in promoting the reunification and strengthening of the Kongo. 20th century.

  • colonial era: it reached its climax with the Berlin conference (1884-1885) when different Kongo groups became dependent on the Portuguese and French powers as well as on the Belgian crown. There are many objects on the exhibition showing Catholic-inspired art from this period. When the second period of evangelism began, of course in an alliance with the colonial order, there were more material, formal and linguistic than spiritual traces left after the initial wave of Christianity.
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Female necklace with crucifix, first quarter of the 20th century.

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Ntadi, funerary statue, with a cross around its neck and a hat with leopard claws, an attribute of a Chief. 20th century.

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Santu cross, eastern Kongo, late 19th-early 20th century. These crosses were used primarily to assure successful hunts.

  • from 1960, 1970 onwards: proliferation of new, so-called ‘revival churches’, was encouraged by the acute economic and political crisis in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. These churches seek to break with the past and tradition. One of them is Kimbanguist Church, introduced at the beginning of this text. There is one room of the exhibition dedicated only to this period which shows also Pierre Bodo’s artistic interpretations.
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Congolese painter Pierre Bodo (1953-2015), La Possession Demoniaque, 2000. Bodo served as a pastor of a Pentecostal church, which influenced his iconographic choices.

From my perspective, curator of the exhibition, Julien Volper, specialist curator for the Sub-Saharan Africa at the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren, very well emphasized the crucial point of the exhibition – the adaptation of Christianity to the particularities of local cultures.


Christian iconography and practices were not adapted unaltered. On the one hand, exhibited objects reflect the reinterpretation of Christian iconography by the local artists, and on the other, Catholic practices were transformed into a religious syncretism. As it is written on the museum’s website, we can understand Congolese cultural interpretation of  Catholicism as “one of the symbols of emancipation in the face of European domination”.


With revealing the aspects of agency of Kongo peoples when encountered with Christian religion, the curator enables us to question imperialist and racist elements of an evolutionary discourse, or of the so-called narrative of progress, which is still present nowadays. From my perspective, this exhibition succeeds in presenting how contacts between different religious as well as cultural concepts can result in something new, stimulate creativity and thus provide new perspectives on the world we live in. This is an extremely important message for today. Fortunately, for those of us, who do not understand French – only the main panels are translated in English – there is an exhibition catalogue available in both, French and English languages.

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Obviously, the exhibition also inspired a visitor, who drew this wonderful picture in a guest book.

Strolling through the exhibition, I was reminded of the very special experience I had while traveling / volunteering in Ghana with a very good friend of mine. We accidentally came across Christian church in the city of Tamale, and were invited to join the Holy Mass. They welcomed us very kindly, and we were asked to introduce ourselves. Afterwards we were invited to actively participate at the Mass. Their Holy Book surprised me the most – I am familiar with biblical parables quite well, however this book was very different. Stories were categorized within several chapters, namely health, family, love, strength, temptation … depending on their message. I tried to read a chapter about temptation, but my neighbor never stopped to show me the right page we were reading at the moment …