The story of the African equatorial region known today as the Democratic Republic of Congo is one marred by colonial extraction. Next month, in a rare attempt to reverse this historical trajectory, a museum space designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) will open to the public on the site of a former Unilever palm oil plantation in the Congolese town of Lusanga.
The building—scheduled to open on April 21—will serve as the home of the Lusanga International Research Centre on Art and Economic Inequality. Formed as a joint endeavor between the Cercle D’Art Des Travailleurs De Plantation Congolaise (Congolese Plantation Workers Art League) and the Amsterdam-based Institute for Human Activities, the center will support arts-minded initiatives and exhibitions including, in an inaugural campaign titled “The Repatriation of the White Cube,” the display of sculptures made of chocolate by the Congolese workers’ collective alongside artworks by Sammy Baloji, Carsten Höller, Luc Tuymans, and Marlene Dumas.
The Lusanga center’s goal is to establish a presence within the global art world. For Renzo Martens, a Dutch artist and founder of the Institute for Human Activities, the process begins with the building itself.
“We use the term ‘power tool’ to describe the white cube and its role as a way to legitimize artists and organizations,” Martens told ARTnews via email. Among its other attractive aspects is its prospective ability to “attract capital and visibility,” he said.
At a panel discussion about the historically minded exhibition “Kongo: Power and Mystery” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2015, the Congolese dancer and choreographer Faustin Linyekula expressed a similar sentiment. “In the Congo, we look at ourselves through the eye of Europe,” he said, “and somehow I’d say we’re still in a colonial state, in that legitimacy has to come from outside.”
The outside has taken notice of late, with a favorable reception of the Congolese Plantation Workers Art League show currently on view at SculptureCenter in New York and the presence of other work of theirs at the Armory Show earlier this month. The new initiative for a site of their own—with others involved including Rem Koolhaas’s sought-after architecture firm OMA—suggests the prospect of more to come.