Aimé Mpane’s work focuses primarily on the legacy of colonialism on the African continent. By linking past and present in a visually cohesive narration, the artist encompasses almost two centuries of socio-political struggle. The history of his home town Kinshasa – formerly known as the ‘City of Leopold’ (Leopoldville) – is emblematic in this sense.
To this day, the memory of the brutalities instigated during the nineteenth century by Leopold II, King of Belgium, is still vivid for the Congolese people; the scar left by his violent occupation is painfully visible on the skin of the indigenous population.
Although these atrocities resound in Mpane’s art, he does not suggest self-pity as a tool for change; awareness, solidarity and collective consciousness are more appropriate. The artist’s sculptural installation titled Congo: Shadow of the Shadow (2005) is a perfect example. A standing figure made of 4,652 matchsticks – transparent and fragile – pensively looks at a wooden silhouette of a dead man that lies flat at his feet, as if it were a gravestone. His silent presence is not only meditating on the past but also proactively thinking forward, following the long shadow projected onto the floor.
Mpane’s work is charged with history and emotions and ‘touches’ us at different levels. It acts as a reminder, a tool of collective empowerment and a quest for individual memory. The collective portrait selected for The Human Stain section of Touched includes over fifty rough-cut wood panels. The artist plays with the tactility of each material, following its nature and highlighting its expressive potential. The resulting portraits are acute psychological investigations. The spontaneity of the brushstrokes recalls the lively style of hand-painted signage associated with stereotyped imagery of African villages. The wood panels are often burnt, broken or perforated and the colour adjusts accordingly. The exploration of the material (an investigation carried out beyond the surface of the painting) allows Mpane to enter the psyche and emotional locus of the people and, more broadly, it enables the artist to narrate the history of an entire place.
Source: Liverpool Biennial International Festival of Contemporary Art, 2010 Guide