Letter from Philippe Van Cauteren to Geraldine Tobe


Following the exhibition 'Vous n'êtes pas prêt pour ça' by Congolese artist Geraldine Tobe, Philippe Van Cauteren wrote a letter to her.

Wonderlust, the cultural diplomacy initiative of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, is hosting the very first exhibition of the work of Congolese visual artist Géraldine Tobe. Tobe is renowned for her unique painting technique: using smoke from petroleum burners, she creates strong, surprising images that confront the public with fragments of her personal life story.

The exhibition 'Vous n'êtes pas prêt pour ça' is free to visit at the Lever House in Brussels until 15 January 2023.
More information on the exhibition

Excerpt from the letter to Geraldine Tobe

"... And then in the collection of the S.M.A.K. is the extraordinary work 'Senza Titolo' (1980) by Greek-Italian artist Jannis Kounellis. During our meeting at the museum in Ghent, my thoughts often wandered to this work. Let me describe it as a sacrificial site : a pile of stones and a painter's palette on the white museum wall, connected by a soot trail. A sculpture as the result of an act, where the tradition of painting is sacrificed in favour of, in my sense, spiritual dimensions. Similarly, more than a decade ago, you destroyed all your paintings, burnt them, to allow a window into renewal. From then on, smoke and soot became your materia prima, a volatile aerosol that finds its precipitation on paper to explore images and traditions. A little later, I thought of the artist Cai Guo-Qiang, son of a traditional Chinese calligrapher, who uses gunpowder to make drawings and installations that connect the spiritual and tradition. Or why not also Claudio Parmiggiani, or Paul Celan's poem 'Black Flakes'. I know, the references I cite are charged from a Western European tradition. But if I take you for a moment to 1953 - seven years before Congo's independence - we approach a sensibility that no doubt connects us both. 'Les statues meurent aussi' is a unique 30-minute visionary documentary by Chris Marker (ism. Alain Resnais and Ghislain Cloquet) commissioned by the magazine 'Présence africaine'. The starting point of the film is the question of why African art is in the 'Musée de l'Homme, while Greek or Egyptian art can be found in the Louvre. Although the question was already asked almost 70 years ago, it is only today that we are coming to tentative beginnings of answers. Clémentine Deliss's publication 'The Metabolic Museum' is one of them, starting with a manifesto for the post-ethnographic museum. Your work is another answer, one from an artist who uses the power of the image as a means of making connections. During our conversation, you talked about restoring the relationship with Congolese ancestors, with the sculptures, ancestor statues, masks and other objects as direct emanations of that other time and space. We talked about Kinshasa, about Tervuren, about restitution, about witchcraft, about religion, about everything for this but in a different order. And a different order is that which your work puts on, a new configuration away from any antagonism, away from Western 'newspeak', towards the origins of originality."

- Philippe Van Cauteren, Ghent 4 November 2022

9.Dec.22 Category: Portrait
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