Luc Tuymans

Lumumba

2000
Not on view
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
24 1/2 x 18" (62.2 x 45.7 cm)
Credit
Fractional and promised gift of Donald L. Bryant, Jr.
Object number
6.2002
Copyright
© 2015 Luc Tuymans
Department
Painting and Sculpture

Tuymans's painting, one of a series of works related to the history of the Congo, is based on a photograph of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the former Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). A visual reminder of an unresolved conflict in history that began with Belgian colonial rule and proceeded to Congolese independence and ongoing civil war, the painting was inspired by a debate, belatedly begun in Belgium in 2000, about the events surrounding Lumumba's assassination thirty-nine years earlier. But this stark portrait tells us nothing about Lumumba or Africa. By implication, the portrait leads our attention to Belgium's unspoken historical role in colonialism, and to the country's conflicted consciousness as it confronts this disputatious past.

If, as Tuymans has said, the subject of this work is history, then the object is a vessel of historical memory. Working from his own visual memory of Lumumba's photograph rather than from the photograph itself, the artist re-created his subject through subtle changes. Lightening the shade of Lumumba's skin and altering the look in his eyes, Tuymans challenges the stereotype of the black man as "savage," a source of threat and apprehension. Is Lumumba, seen in lighter tones, a more "civilized" man? Tuymans seems to be asking us. Here, Lumumba's bemused gaze seems to question the very myth that he has become.

Tuymans's selection of this particular image recalls a mid-nineteenth-century European tradition in which vast archives of documentary photographs were built up as part of the control and surveillance of the colonized populations. Power, secrecy, and control laws stand at the origin of those archives. It is this ideological connotation of photography that Tuymans subverts by addressing it so forthrightly. The artist goes beyond photography's indexical representation, critiquing and twisting its original function in order to intertwine the representational contents of history, myth, and memory. Tuymans inspires the viewer to ponder the creation of cultural identity through political history. Through Lumumba's gaze we see the artist gazing at history.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art , MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 361

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Related links:
Outside North America: Scala Archives
North America: Art Resource

Image permissions

In order to effectively service requests for images, The Museum of Modern Art entrusts the licensing of images of works of art in its collections to the agencies Scala Archives and Art Resource. As MoMA’s representatives, these agencies supply high-resolution digital image files provided to them directly by the Museum's imaging studios.

All requests to reproduce works of art from MoMA's collection within North America (Canada, U.S., Mexico) should be addressed directly to Art Resource at 536 Broadway, New York, New York 10012. Telephone (212) 505-8700; fax (212) 505-2053; requests@artres.com; artres.com. Requests from all other geographical locations should be addressed directly to Scala Group S.p.A., 62, via Chiantigiana, 50012 Bagno a Ripoli/Firenze, Italy. Telephone 39 055 6233 200; fax 39 055 641124; firenze@scalarchives.com; scalarchives.com.

Requests for permission to reprint text from MoMA publications should be addressed to text_permissions@moma.org.

Related links:
Outside North America: Scala Archives
North America: Art Resource