Virginia Museum of Fine Arts lending sculpture to country of origin for first time in 50+ years

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) announced on February 12, 2024, the temporary loan of the sculpture Chief’s or Diviner’s Figure Representing the Belgian Colonial Officer Maximilien Balot (circa 1931) for an exhibition organized by the Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (CATPC) collective. The CATPC will display the sculpture at the White Cube museum in Lusanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo, from April 20 to November 24, 2024. This will be the first time that Chief’s or Diviner’s Figure Representing the Belgian Colonial Officer Maximilien Balot has returned to its country of origin in more than 50 years.

“The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is delighted to partner with CATPC for this important exhibition,” VMFA’s Director and CEO Alex Nyerges, said. “The sculpture’s appearance in Lusanga will be profoundly meaningful to the people in that region. The loan of a wooden sculpture from an American museum’s collection to a museum in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is also of historic significance, and we hope it will inspire a new era of collaboration and partnerships between museums on both continents.”

Chief’s or Diviner’s Figure Representing the Belgian Colonial Officer Maximilien Balot has been part of VMFA’s permanent collection since the museum lawfully purchased it in 2015, and the sculpture’s provenance is well documented. Dutch artist and Human Activities artistic director Renzo Martens and CATPC artists Ced’art Tamasala and Matthieu Kasiama first approached VMFA about the loan of the Balot sculpture to the White Cube museum in 2020. Since that time VMFA, CATPC and the White Cube museum have worked together on the complex logistics involved in bringing the sculpture to Lusanga and ensuring its safe return to VMFA in November 2024.

CATPC hopes that exhibiting the sculpture at the White Cube museum, located on a former palm oil plantation in Lusanga (formerly known as Leverville), will underscore their efforts for the region’s spiritual, ethical and economic recovery.

Portrait and Power Object

Both a portrait and a power object, Chief’s or Diviner’s Figure Representing the Belgian Colonial Officer Maximilien Balot represents the Belgian colonial officer Maximilien Balot who was killed during a revolt by the Kwilu Pende people against forced labor on plantations in 1931. The sculpture’s display in Lusanga is timed to coincide with an exhibition of new works by CATPC artists at the Dutch National Pavilion in Venice. CATPC, in collaboration with artist Renzo Martens and curator Hicham Khalidi, will represent the Netherlands at the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, and the Balot sculpture will be projected as a livestream from the White Cube into the Dutch Pavilion as a key component of this exhibition.

The Dutch entry was commissioned by the Mondriaan Fund, which also provides Human Activities with a budget for the loan.

The two simultaneous exhibitions demonstrate the artists’ ongoing commitment to return the colonial-era plantation back into a sacred forest. CATPC believes that the display of Chief’s or Diviner’s Figure Representing the Belgian Colonial Officer Maximilien Balot on the plantation will strengthen their cause.

“Exhibiting the ancestral sculpture of Balot in Lusanga will enable the community to reconnect – physically and historically – with this symbolic object and demonstrate our shared value of humanity,” Ced’art Tamasala, a CATPC artist whose work will be on display in Venice, said.

“It’s great that the Virginia Museum is committed to really engage with the meaning of the sculpture and with the value it represents for the people from where it originates,” Eelco van der Lingen, director of the Mondriaan Fund, said. “I am delighted the loan is agreed on for CATPC, and I trust that this narrative will be given a proper podium at La Biennale di Venezia in the presentation by CATPC, Renzo Martens and Hicham Khalidi.”

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