The film ‘(Pas) Mon Pays, Part I and II’, is an integral part of the project ‘Memory of Congo, in Congo and in Mechelen’, together with the installation ‘The Copy’, that will be shown in the exhibition of Contour Biennale 9.
Bie Michels was born and raised in Congo, in a house on the campus of the current University of Kinshasa (former Lovanium, the first university in the country, 1954-1971). As the title indicates, ‘(Pas) Mon Pays, Part I and II’, is in two parts. The first talks about a colonial monument in Mechelen and Michels’ efforts to decolonize this statue with a group of Belgian citizens with Congolese roots. The second shows the artist’s visit to Congo and is based on her personal history. The film is an attempt to let the past encounter the present and see further into the future of the postcolonial situation, in both Congo and Mechelen.
In Mechelen, the colonial monument by Lode Eyckermans in the Schuttersvest pays homage to 31 “pioneers who died for the civilization in Congo” as it is inscribed on the statue. One of them is Van Kerckhoven, who was a notoriously cruel commander during the reign of king Leopold II of Belgium. The statue is very intriguing, with two stylized Congolese heads, a male and a female, as a Janus image. It aestheticises what is problematically called the African race and thus could be seen as a tribute to it. However, this is in stark contrast to the inscription on the plinth, since the inscriptions only tells one side of the story, the Belgian one.
Confronted with this, Michels asked the sculptor Raf Vergauwen to make a scaled-down copy of the monument. She collaborated with a group of Belgian citizens with Congolese roots living in Mechelen and the surrounding area 1 on a proposal for a new inscription for this copy. After several months of meetings and working sessions, they came up with an inscription that discusses both sides of the story and focuses on the word civilization and decolonisation in general. A visit to the mayor of the City of Mechelen to present him with their proposal for a new text near the real monument was the end point of the project. The copy and the process, as well as the meetings and the visit, are the subject of Part I of Michels’ film.
For Part II of the film, Michels went back to the campus of the University of Kinshasa (former Lovanium) for the first time since she left it at the age of nine. She visited the house where she grew up, the university buildings, her old school, the church, the swimming pool and the city of Kinshasa. Along with the filmmakers Paul Shemisi and Nisar Saleh from Kinshasa, she made a video report of her encounters with several people. In the film, her personal history, in the form of old photos and memories, is confronted with the current reality. This offers her the opportunity to take a critical look at the university's origins and the historically grown problems of dealing with images (photo and film) in Congo. Among many encounters, Michels meets the family now living in her childhood home, professors and students of the departments of history and artificial intelligence, a slam poet, people in the street and so on. The text ‘Civiliser le Congo Belge: de la coercition à la persuasion’ by the Congolese historian Sindani Kiangu was an important source of inspiration for her questions about the influences of colonization on today’s civilisation.