Remembering the Present: Painting and Popular History in Zaire

In This Review

Remembering the Present: Painting and Popular History in Zaire

By Johannes Fabian
University of California Press, 1996
348 pp. $75.00

While we await the appearance of studies of the post-Mobutu era, this book casts a highly original glance backward at the history of the former Zaire through the eyes of a talented self-taught painter, Tshibumba Kanda Matulu. Between 1973 and 1976, during lively conversations and correspondence with the anthropologist Johannes Fabian, the Shaba-born artist explained how in recording his vision of his country's past in 100 paintings, he sometimes departed from so-called historical facts, his intention being to make people think and question. Paintings of the 1961 arrest and murder of nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba convey a tragic intensity suggestive of Christ's betrayal and death. A portrait of Mobutu receiving applause at the United Nations in 1973 reveals the artist's highly subjective and self-censored conceptions of historical "truth," Fabian argues. In the book's second half, Fabian offers an anthropological analysis of Tshibumba's history -- as art, narrative discourse, and political commentary -- that will delight readers interested in postmodernist studies of the construction of knowledge.

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