Exhibtions News

“Giant Masks from the Congo”, an exhibition at the Brussels Belvue Museum (May- September 2015)

Giant Masks from the Congo Yaka Suku Belvue museum

From Friday 15 May to Wednesday 2 September 2015, the Brussels Belvue Museum (5 minutes walking from the Sablon) will be hosting the exhibition Giant Masks from the Congo – A Belgian Jesuit ethnographic heritage (info). It is a collaboration of the Royal Museum of Central Africa, the Belgian Society of Jesus, BELvue Museum, and the King Baudouin Foundation and will show a series of (“giant”) Yaka and Suku masks used during initiation rituals. Objects from the Heverlee missionary collections are complemented with masks and statues from the collections of Tervuren. A catalogue will accompany the exhibition and the entrance will be free.

While working in the Belgian Congo, Jesuit missionaries also carried out ethnographic research and collected objects. The historical and cultural context of this endeavour introduces this exhibit, which features a set of masks used during the mukanda male initiation rite among the Yaka and the Suku. These masks are remarkable in their exceptional form and design. Most of these pieces have never before been seen in public or in print.

The first part of the exhibit describes the work of the Jesuits in the Kwango mission and provides the portrait of several Jesuit collectors. A wealth of documents – handwritten letters, published excerpts, maps – sketches out the context in which pieces were collected and the collaboration that began in the 1930s between the museum and the Jesuits. The RMCA holds the large collection from the former Jesuit missionary museum in Heverlee in trust and is in charge of its conservation, archiving, restoration, and scientific analysis. The second part presents the mukanda rite among the Yaka and Suku, as well as a few neighbouring groups.

In 2013, the Belvue Museum hosted another exhibition (Dr Livingstone, I presume) that showed African art – you can find pictures of it on the blog of François Boulanger here.

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