In his third solo exhibition at Gallery FIFTY ONE, French artist Éric Manigaud (°1971) presents the final piece of his intensive research into European colonial history. This show runs simultaneously with an exhibition at Galerie Sator in Paris. Belgian Congo being the subject in Paris and French Congo in Antwerp.
Manigaud is interested in archival sources that often bear witness to violent episodes in Europe’s evolution towards modernity. He appropriates photographic material from the late 19th to early 20th century by projecting it onto a sheet of paper – always much larger than the original scale – tracing the outlines and shades with pencil and graphite powder. This slow and labour-intensive process gives weight to the volatile snapshots he originally started from. The often graphic nature of his photo-realistic drawings, their somewhat blurred, dream-like appearance and their monumental scale, turns his works into a physical and disruptive experience that encourages us to remember painful parts of our history.
France’s colonial history is a subject of great interest to Manigaud (see also his previous solo show at the gallery ‘R.A.S. (rien à signaler)’). The central theme of this new exhibition is one of the blackest episodes of that past; the construction of the Congo-Océan Railway, which runs over a distance of 502 km from Brazzaville (the capital of the Republic of the Congo, former colony of France) to the port city of Pointe-Noire. The line can be regarded as a symbol of the crimes against humanity committed by the colonial system; during the more than ten years that it took to complete – from 1921 to 1934 -, an estimation of 17,000 to 20,000 workers were killed due to poor (forced) working conditions, malnutrition and disease. For Manigaud this infrastructure project is also emblematic of all other forms of exploitation of the colonial system; the association of the two words ‘Congo’ and ‘Océan’ gives the impression that they are synonyms, degrading Congo to merely an extraction area from which commodities leave for transport over sea.
May 18, 2023 – July 15, 2023
GALLERY FIFTY ONE
2000 Antwerp, Belgium