INTERVIEW

Mwazulu Diyabanza Exhibitionist Activism – Horcelie Sinda Wa Mbongo

Exhibitionist activism: the cultural, spiritual, and socio-political demand of Congolese restitution. Mwazulu Diyabanza, the activist from Congo, who does not consider himself a thief for demanding the return of Congolese artifacts. Diyabanza’s campaign for the reparation of crimes committed against Africans led to his arrest in Paris at the Museum of Louvre. He attempted to remove a sculpture, and was arrested by the police. According to Diyabanza,
there is a spiritual dimension in the regards to demanding for the artifacts, but also in their part there is a spiritual response. His Campaign urges Museums and galleries to return the African artifacts to its original places.

Congo-born Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza speaks to reporters after the verdict at the Paris Palace of Justice, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Diyabanza was fined 2,000 euros ($2,320) for trying to take a 19th-century African funeral pole from a Paris museum. He streamed the incident online in a protest against colonial-era injustice like the plundering of African art. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)
Last year’s Venice Biennale entitled: May you live in interesting time. Do you agree that
we are living in interesting times?

M.D: Yes, we are living in interesting times as young Africans are taking the power of their history. The collective consciousness demonstrates that space no longer defines what we must be. Africans lived as foreigners in England, American or French without hindering their African origins. Today, space no longer defines that because we have noticed there is a collective knowledge to fight against social issues. Through this, collectivity reveals the truth that traditional media hid in the past. Today information is scattered and can be accessed from one place to another because of technology. It is liberating to see that. It is, therefore, an exciting time because it is a time that will be determined by the consciousness that can heal humanity. They will not be determined by other forces or power that will define the orientation of our world.

You are forbidden to enter any museums since your arrest. What other ways are you continuing the activism?

M.D: Since my arrest, my circulation in art galleries and museums is restricted. I cannot travel to certain places because they are trying to protect the artifacts. I work collectively with others, and our objective is multicultural and political. We want to be able to have international conversations to urge European organisations or institutions to return what they stole. We are working with international laws and rights that will oblige the institutions to restitute what they stole. We are preparing a massive campaign with representatives from different parts of the world with one voice to end this injustice. Our artifacts have been exhibited, sold, and they have determined how those in charge can cite our art. We have filed a complaint to the museums and the French authority. In the future, We hope to be the pioneers, and the French institutions will be the ones accused. As a spokesperson, I have continued my activism in the media to campaign to the public so that they can join us to put pressure on different governments for direct restitution. We also work with other native representatives in Asia, Australia, Guinea, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Mexicans and elsewhere, who have responded to the call.

A visitor walks past a door of the king’s palace Gele of the Dahomey kingdom, dated19th century, today’s Benin, at Quai Branly museum in Paris, France, Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Let us discuss European spaces, in retrospect with artifacts. Can an African space exist within the European sphere? In other words, does the meaning and the gaze of the work change because of its locality?

M.D:  The condition in which the European displays the arts has two sentiments. The first is the colonial self-interest that’s why they have put it in the gallery. The second is the revolt gaze because Africans know that those artifacts do not belong to the museum. When we discuss an African space within the European sphere, the presence of African heritage has inspired many European artists, for an example is Pablo Picasso and the renaissance. Through their art, we notice the source of Africa. In our space we want a decolonized space, starting by decolonizing the European museums. We also want the mental decolonization for many to know who the owners of these artifacts are.
Moreover, during the colonial era, there was scientific information that was transmitted to the Europeans when they took the artifacts. They understood the function, the origin and the objectives of them. They decided to decapitate the meaning of them. Therefore, how can an African space be created with dignity within the European space? For example, when you go to the British Museum, there is a mask from Congo that can scan the human body, scientifically. When the Congolese wore the mask, they were able to see the physical body and could detect an illness. The Europeans were astonished that the Africans had technological knowledge before. The restitution of these objects will therefore reevaluate the Congolese cultural, scientific research. We, therefore, demand the restitution of these information.

France has allowed particular works to return to Congo. Are you working collaboratively with the Congolese art institutions such as Museums to create spaces for these artifacts?

M.D: We are working collaboratively with many people and different associations in Congo such as Goma, Bukavu, Kinshasa. We are putting pressure on the minister of culture, local and national presidential ministries. Despite the political instability, with every action, I am the one instructing these actions because we do not want to contradict each other. The objective of our visit to Brussels with the prime minister is to discuss the notable questions regarding the restitution. These artifacts need to be reconnected by the Congolese to its original places, such as the villages in Congo. It can be possible with conscious decisions with every party or step put forward.

I am an awe of your courage and audacious activism. Are there others in the Congolese diaspora behind you?

M.D:  Those who are conscious and understand the necessity of the demand are aware of the activism. We are trying to emerge the activism for many Congolese who want to take actions with us.

The museums are saying you have “stolen” the art. When the European took the arts, they did not demand permission. Is this a reverse action, it is as though you are saying you (we) do not need permission or approval from museums to return the art.

M.D:  There is a logic in society; you do not ask a thief authorization to return what they had stolen from you. You will take it away from them. Even if there were to escape perhaps for two or three days, when you find them, you take your belongings, and no one will condemn you. I am taking back without permission what the thief took. This way of thinking is the natural logic of life; I am taking what belongs to me because the thief took it and put laws to keep it. These arts do not belong to the french institutions or the museums; they also recognize and admit that they looted them. Should we live in a society that encourages stealing or those who are fighting for justice? Every action I am committing, I am trying to put forward these questions on our tables. It is not a logic of revenge, because you never demand permission to return what the thief stole from you.

Go Fundme <- To pay cost of the fine of the 5 Activists (Arnhem)

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