Kunstmuseum aan zee Collecties van
de Vlaamse Gemeenschap
Stad Oostende


A conversation between collections from Kinshasa and Ostend

To mark the ten-year anniversary of its founding, Mu.ZEE is entering its collection of Belgian art into a dialogue with a private collection of works from Kinshasa. During this eight-month project, the museum will be looking at the past, the present and the future. By combining two collections and collaborating with partners from Kinshasa, the museum aims at shared control. More than ever before, it wants to abandon the dictatorial position that characterises many museums: it aspires, instead, to engage in dialogue and to ask questions, although without providing any definitive answers. It seeks to establish transhistorical and transgeographical commitments, and to challenge rather than postulate.

The collections from Kinshasa and Ostend were assembled simultaneously, although the latter has a longer history. Ten years ago, the collections belonging to the Province of West Flanders and the City of Ostend were brought together in Mu.ZEE, which has been responsible for the development of the acquisitions policy ever since. Today, the museum not only collects the work of artists who were born Belgium, but also of those who live and work in the country. Not long after the creation of Mu.ZEE, a Belgian development worker began collecting artworks and archival material in Kinshasa. Thanks to the close relationship between the collector and the artists, many of whom are little known, this collection has, amongst other things, immense historical value. In 2017, Mu.ZEE was given the opportunity to accept the collection as a long-term loan. Questions about its formation, conservation and management, as well as art-historical research, immediately came to the fore. As a result, and in the context of its ten-year anniversary, Mu.ZEE has decided to organise an exhibition of the works in dialogue with the permanent collection.

One of the works from Kinshasa is L’artiste Africain by Francis Mampuya, in which the artist responds to how the Western art world perceives Africa. Exhibitions such as Congo Kitoko take the Congo – and increasingly the entire African continent – as a starting point, even when the artists selected address different subjects. Reducing the artists to their place of origin suggests an atmosphere of exoticism. All too often, the participating artists are barely compensated for their work and Mampuya complains about these forms of exploitation. As the arbiters of whose work is exhibited, the West adopts a neo-colonial standpoint.

Mu.ZEE wants to launch a social debate. What commitments can or should a museum of modern and contemporary art make? What accepted truths should be contested and which positions adopted? Mu.ZEE believes it is high time that the Western hegemony was called into question and global relations reconsidered. In its operations, programming and acquisitions policy, the museum aims to reflect society but without reproducing the existing, often hidden, power structures. Collections are, however, the result of choices determined by belief and confidence in certain artists, and in dialogue with different factors. It is important not to privilege any one canon over another and to also provide context.

Mu.ZEE is being transferred to the Flemish Community and, at this juncture, it seeks to reveal the mechanisms behind the museum’s workings and to open this up to collective reflection. Through the various discursive moments and exchanges within the presentation, the exhibition forges links with, but also between, works of art and creators, visitors, collections, multiple histories and future perspectives. Mu.ZEE wants to rid itself of ideals centred on civilization or progress when showing objects. It goes in search of fresh associations and the ability to make less-obvious choices. It wants to hear more voices and make them audible, and to make different translations of one story.

Photograph: Francis Mampuya, L’artiste Africain, 2015, private collection

Seeing, thinking, doing: the museum as a site of creative exchange

Overview past exhibitions »

16/12/2017 - 30/09/2018