Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise

Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise

Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art

View of Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise, 2016. © The artists and the Institute for Human Activities. Courtesy Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. Photo: Jason Hynes.
March 29, 2016
Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise

February 6–May 29, 2016

Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art
Centre Square
Middlesbrough TS1 2AZ
United Kingdom


Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art
Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, part of Teesside University, is moving forward with a vision of itself as a “useful museum,” or “museum 3.0,” under the directorship of Alistair Hudson. The “useful museum” is a civic institution that promotes art as a tool for social change and is created by the sum of the actions of its users. This establishes the “museum 3.0,” reasserting the gallery as a public site, beyond representation and participation and based on use value, with its meaning defined by its constituents.

Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise,
in co-production with the
Institute for Human Activities
The Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise brings together plantation workers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who engage in art making. Its founding members are Djonga Bismar, Michel Ekeba, Eléonore Hellio, Mathieu Kasiama, Mbuku Kimpala, Thomas Leba, Jérémie Mabiala, Daniel Manenga, Mega Mingiedi, Emery Mohamba, René Ngongo, Armand Ngudikienda, and Cédric Tamasala.

The Institute for Human Activities is an organisation initiated by the Dutch, Brussels-based artist Renzo Martens. Its opening seminar took place in a settlement set up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s inland. The event brought together theorists, activists, artists, and plantation workers to address global economic inequalities.

Artists from Kinshasa and plantation workers create sculptures—self-portraits or representations of art-market figures such as the collector—in workshops held at the settlement. The works are moulded from clay sourced from a tributary of the Congo River, 3D scanned locally, and reproduced in chocolate—via multiple technologies, including 3D scanning and printing—in the Netherlands.

The plantation workers hand-harvest oil palm fruit and pods of cocoa beans for multinational corporations, a typical example of the exploitation of African natural resources. They are underpaid and perpetually underprivileged—as has been the case since colonial times, when forced labour generated most of the wealth in the West.

As the sculptures are exhibited and sold in the West, with profits benefiting the plantation workers through fees and the funding of their activities, the plantation workers have been managing to break free from this purely extractive economy. This improves their living conditions and helps redress long-standing global economic inequalities.

The sculptures have previously been presented under Martens’s name; this is the first exhibition organised under the aegis of the Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise. Public programmes include a conversation between Hellio, an artist and workshop leader from Kinshasa, and the critic Els Roelandt; a talk by Martens; film screenings and panel discussions about African culture and the world economy; and a community gathering with migrants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo living in Teesside.


Also at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art:

The Office of Useful Art
The Office of Useful Art, headquarters of the Asociación de Arte Útil, initiated by Tania Bruguera, presents the Arte Útil archive, a growing registry of more than 500 case studies that exemplify this movement. A series of talks and events examine Arte Útil and its aspirations for art to be recalibrated as a way of operating in everyday life. The project is a collaboration with Bruguera and the Van Abbemuseum as part of The Uses of Art – The Legacy of 1848 and 1989, a project by the European museum confederation L’Internationale.

Arte Útil Commission
Núria Güell
The Spanish artist Núria Güell addresses issues of legality, power, ethics, and morality. She employs tactics associated with activism, regularly using her persona as subject matter or collaborating with people in a variety of contexts. She is working with asylum seekers and refugees in Middlesbrough, particularly from Syria, to address the relationship between experiences of displacement and identity and issues related to housing and conflict. This project is supported by Acción Cultural Española.


Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art presents the Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise

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Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art
March 29, 2016

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