”Objects that are dear to him”

Video work

Double screen video installation, circa 12 min. loop

In 1911 a seventy seven-page file entitled “Plans et photographies d’habitations pour plantations coloniales” was featured in the Bulletin Agricole du Congo Belge. Authored by Edmond Leplae (1868-1941), the first director general of the Agriculture Department of the Belgian Ministry of the Colonies, and consisting of documentation collected during a trip to the tropics, it made a case for the colonizer’s house as the key instrument for a successful mise en valeur (exploitation) of the colony. This dwelling should not only ensure safety and a healthy hygienic environment, but also contribute to morality and counter feelings of discouragement and (mental) fatigue. Moreover, “it should allow [the colonizer] to bring his wife and children to the colonies and to live without danger in a familial environment, surrounded by the people and objects that are dear to him.” For Leplae, it seemed important lessons were to be learned from British and Dutch colonial experiences.

In a double screen video installation, a close and critical reading of Leplae’s file on colonial houses from 1911 is placed in dialogue with a photo reportage from his mission to Katanga between 1910 and 1914. With commentary by Johan Lagae and Donatien Dibwe Dia Mwembu (Université de Lubumbashi, DRC).


“Style Congo. Heritage & Heresy” explores the politics of cultural representation and appropriation through contemporary artistic and architectural interventions as well as historic documents and materials from CIVA’s Collections. The exhibition visually chronicles the representation of Congo in international expositions held between 1885 and 1958, using Art Nouveau as its anchor point. The movement—at the time also called “Style Congo”—coincided with King Leopold II’s exploitation of the Congo and reflects a widespread fascination with “exotic” materials and forms.

The works in the exhibition question and destabilize canonical histories and the colonial roots of this heritage. By examining marks of colonization in the city of Brussels and in the Congolese urban landscape, they present a decolonial resignification of private and public spaces, seeking to rewrite the margins of history into the center.

Paoletta Holst & Johan Lagae

The Johan Lagae, Paoletta Holst (Ghent University) & Donatien Dibwe dia Mwembu (Université de Lubumbashi, DRC)

Edmond Leplae, “Plans et photographies d’habitations pour plantations coloniales” Bulletin Agricole du Congo Beige vol.1. no.2, 1911; M. Van den Abeele, “Edmond Leplae”, Biographie Coloniale Belge, vol. IV, Brussels, 1955, pp. 515-518; and 31 from a series of 219 photographs taken by Leplae on his mission to the Katanga region in Congo between 1910 and 1914, Colonial Office Collection, MRAC Tervuren.

Paoletta Holst, Mamadou Sanogo

Style Congo. Heritage & Heresy at CIVA, Brussels

Ghent University Library,
Royal Museum of Central Africa, Tervuren and CIVA, Brussels