The exhibition Congo Stars shows popular painting created between the 1960s and today, as well as works in other media. In cooperation with the Royal Museum for Central Africa Tervuren, Kunsthalle Tübingen, Iwalewahaus in Bayreuth, and PICHA in Lubumbashi, Kunsthaus Graz will display works by around 70 Congolese artists living in Paris, Brussels, Kinshasa and Lubumbashi.

The book Tram 83, written by the Lubumbashi-born and Graz-based author Fiston Mwanza Mujila, served as a conceptual starting point for the exhibition. In it, he describes an imaginary place that, while based on the (harsh) social reality of Congolese cities, could in fact be almost anywhere. In the exhibition, divided into six chapters (“street”, “bar”, “home”, “stars”, “spirituality”, “exploitation”), real and imaginary places and spaces that function as generators of community and identity are intertwined, condensing moments of fiction. The individual chapters are not separate from one another, but form a continuous narrative, being interconnected and consolidated through recurring motifs and themes. Alongside works of art, a timeline provides information on the history of key events and contextualises the works on display. The accumulation of diverse material and a range of visual levels are used to create an almost overwhelming density, reminiscent of the density of a Congolese city.

Essential for the decision to show Congo Stars at Kunsthaus Graz are the sometimes surprising historical and current relations between Styria, Austria and Congo. The connections and interdependencies are multifacetted and extend far back—from educational programmes in the 1960s to the decades of teaching by two Austrian professors at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Kinshasa to the activities of the writer Fiston Mwanza Mujila who lives in Graz today. Important Congolese artists such as Chéri Samba and Tshibumba Kanda Matulu exhibited in Graz in the 1990s, and there are also three important Austrian collections (the Ethno-Medicine collection / Weltmuseum Vienna; the Horvath Collection for Political Art, Linz; the Peter Weihs collection, Kukmirn), which —in addition to lenders from Brussels and Paris—made important works available for the exhibition Congo Stars.

Congo Stars is not a “national exhibition” or even a showcase for the Democratic Republic of Congo. The title conjures up the star in the flag and alludes to the changing political systems and regimes—because not only the name of today’s Democratic Republic of Congo, but also the national flags have been modified, depending on the state doctrine. The title also refers to popular culture, to local and international stars and heroes, and, beyond that, to literally reaching for the stars. Zaire, the state’s name between 1971 and 1997, was able to afford an ambitious space programme. The many utopian, futuristic-looking representations by the artists also ultimately speak of a longing for a social space that is positively occupied—both territorially and temporally in an “outside” space. Ultimately, “Congo” is projection screen, imagination, dysfunctional state and contested territory in equal measure.

With works by: Abis, Alfi Alfa, Sammy Baloji, Gilbert Banza Nkulu, Chéri Benga, Bodo, Vitshois Mwilambwe Bondo, Burozi, Dominique Bwalya Mwando, Chéri Cherin, Trésor Cherin, Djilatendo, Ekunde, Sam Ilus, Jean Kamba, Lady Kambulu, Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga, Kasongo, Jean Mukendi Katambayi, Aundu Kiala, J.P. Kiangu, Bodys Isek Kingelez, Ange Kumbi, Hilaire Balu Kuyangiko, Londe, Albert et Antoinette Lubaki, Gosette Lubondo, Ernest Lungieki, George Makaya Lusavuvu, Tinda Lwimba, Michèle Magema, Maurice Mbikayi, Maman Masamba, Matanda, Mbuëcky Jumeaux, JP Mika, Mega Mingiedi Tunga, Moke, Moke-Fils, Gedeon Ndonda, Nkaz Mav, Vincent Nkulu, Vuza Ntoko, Chéri Samba, SAPINart, Monsengo Shula, Sim Simaro, Maître SYMS, Tambwe, Tshibumba Kanda Matulu, Pathy Tshindele Kapinga, Tuur Van Balen & Revital Cohen and many more.