Kings of corruption (Biscuit Heads) by Malebona Maphutse
This work by the South African artist uses the colours of the Belgian flag to question the country’s view of its colonial history.
From South Africa to Europe
Born in Johannesburg in 1994, Malebona Maphutse was influenced by her time at a school attended mainly by white Afrikaner students : confronted with racism on a daily basis she clashed with students and teachers, finding solace in her art and dance classes. Up to 2017 she studied fine arts at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and experienced her first art residency in 2018 at the Bag Factory Artist Studio in Fordsburg.
Gaining exposure at the Berlin Biennial in 2018 and the Rampa exhibition space in Porto in 2019, the artist likes to work with lots of different materials - painting on canvas or linen, linocut, plaster, steel, and sometimes video - to create multimedia installations such as Mamoloyi: A Revival. This installation made in 2017 combines images from television, digital posters and speakers. Malebona Maphutse sometimes takes the stage, as she did in 2017 for Options at Bheka, a performance produced before Mamoloyi.
A colonial flag
In her work Kings of corruption (Biscuit Heads), Malebona Maphutse takes the three colours of the Belgian flag – red, yellow and black – and uses them to depict the country in three parts. The first strip shows a building in Kinshasa, Congo today : sensitive to the history of this former Belgian colony, the artist wants to symbolise a country that has been free since 1960 but is « still violated by the Belgian state ».
The second depicts King Leopold II (1865-1909) and surrounds him with weapons, pointed at him as a sign of the violence he promoted and propagated by deciding to turn Congo into a colony.
The third and final strip shows Belgian soldiers lined up, a symbol of the « pride associated with the heritage of Leopold II in Belgium, which shocked me », the artist explains.
An uncompromising portrait
Completed in early 2020, Kings of corruption (Biscuit Heads) is a work painted on an unstretched canvas, without a frame, 1.46 meters long and 1.10 meters wide, giving it the appearance of a flag.
By adopting the colours of Belgium and using symbolic motifs such as the portrait of King Leopold II and the image of soldiers in tight rows, it creates a synthetic image of Belgian colonial identity where weapons and violence play a predominant role, inspired by Belgian ethnographic museums.
Review of a journey
Kings of corruption (Biscuit Heads) reflects Malebona Maphtuse’s thoughts during her months of travel in 2019-2020 in Europe, particularly in Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands and France. There she observed the way countries approach their colonial history and saw an indecent pride in it, which celebrates the rape, massacres and looting of colonised countries.
Invited by the Wiels Art Centre in Brussels, she visited the Royal Museum for Central Africa there. As a resident of the International City of Arts in Paris, she visited the Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac Museum. Malebona Maphutse thus forged links between Belgian and French colonial memories.
The work was exhibited at the Stellenbosch Triennale in South Africa from February to April 2020.
As part of the residency programme of the Institut français at the Cité internationale des arts, and with the support of La Fabrique de l’Esprit, Malebona Maphutse benefited from a residency in Paris between January and March 2020.