Gastineau Massamba Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, b. 1973

Born in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, Massamba was confronted with the civil war that tore apart his country.  The artist explores a universe of violence, chaos and pain, deep traces of which can still be seen today. He doesn’t use paint, but burns, cuts and embroiders huge canvases or linen to create images of incredible force.

 

Massamba’s stark depiction of armed soldiers atop a mountain of skeletons bears witness to unspeakable human suffering. The re-occurring motif of the skull suggests a will to tame the forces of evil, his art making process rewriting the real and transcending horror and trauma. The skull image also makes reference to more traditional forms of vodou practiced in his home country. The Okapi is a native animal to Central Africa, an endangered species with a precarious existence. As a national icon the Okapi stands on a background of lettering drawn from playing cards, symbols that point to histories of colonialism and cultural domination.