A poet-turned-artist who incorporated language and everyday materials into his work, Broodthaers created Le Problème noir en Belgique (The Black Problem in Belgium) in reference to the Belgian colonial rule of the Congo and its enduring ramifications for the African nation following independence in 1960.
The artist incorporated a copy of the January 19–20, 1964, issue of Le Soir, one of Belgium’s most widely read newspapers, into the composition by folding and dramatically nailing it to a decorative-paper board and then obscuring the text with imitation eggshells and black paint. The one remaining headline, “The Congo Must Be Saved,” belongs to an article by Moïse Tshombe, the eventual prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1964 to 1965, calling on Belgium to recognize its own hand in the economic and political difficulties facing the former colony, including those related to infrastructure, education, and unemployment. The superimposed eggshells, which figure prominently in the artist’s visual vocabulary, appealed to Broodthaers as a symbol of life and creative potential, although their unnatural color and substance (in this case, plastic) appear to suggest the opposite. In this powerful assemblage, the content of the article in combination with the poetic resonance of the black eggshells and splattered paint imply a sense of physical impact and violence, evoking the bloody history of Belgium’s colonial past.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)