The Congo River

Arts from Central Africa

This work highlights the relations which link artistic production of the people of central Africa (mainly Gabon, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo). From the forests located to the north of the Congo River till the savannahs of the south, the exhibition itinerary underlines the artistic links existing between the works produced by the diverse communities of these regions, bearers of greatly distinct cultures and traditions, but also sharing the Bantu language. Beyond the differences between the Fang, Hemba, Kwélé or Kota, there exist indeed shared styles and usages that make it possible to better understand the masterpieces of Central Africa.

Two large biotopes are spread out on both sides of the Congo River that serves as a border and also as link between diverse societies that live on both sides of its banks. The diversity of the productions in these two biotopes comes within the scope of a remarkable unity that involves both the institutions of these peoples and their artistic productions. Thus, for example, the Kota reliquaries, visible to the north of Gabon, gradually become more convex and ornate, in the south; same is the case with the Punu masks – the famous “white masks” – that become more realistic in the sphere of influence of the Kongo kingdom. To the east, Bembe sculpture offers the same mutations, inspired on the one hand by arts of forest cultures, particularly the Lega culture, and, on the other hand, developing realistic statuary reminiscent of the populations of the subequatorial savannah.

It is a complete heritage of humanity, so often cut up into separate ethnic groups by colonial borders, as has been highlighted.

The three themes selected are presented in the form of an initiatory path underlining the emergence and development of these astonishing cultural signs and recognized all over the world:

• The heart-shaped face, present in the masks and effigies from the equatorial forest, from the Kwele to the Lega.

• The reliquaries and ancestor figures, cutting across both the forest/savannah biotopes, of the Mbede, Fang, Tsogho, Kota, Ngbaka, Teke, Kongo, Songye, Kusu, Hemba, Boyo-Bembe and Tabwa.

• the feminine representation, venerated in the kingdoms of the savannah: Punu masks, Kongo maternity figures; masks and effigies from the Kwango-Kwilu region (Holo, Yaka, Suku, Mbala, Pende), the Chokwe, Luluwa and Luba.


400 pages in 29.7 x 24.5 cm format

400 color illustrations

Paperback edition: 60 Euros

978 6153 914 8

Coedition Fonds Mercator

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Professor emeritus of the Catholic University of Leuven, François Neyt taught in the official University of Congo which later became the University of Zaire (at Lubumbashi). François Neyt drafted an article on Central Africa for the Encyclopædia Universalis as well as a note for La Collection of the musée du quai Branly in Paris. His main works include: The Great Hemba Statuary of Zaire (1977) ; Traditional Arts and History in Zaire (1981) ; Luba, at the source of Zaire (1993) ; The formidable Songye Statuary of Central Africa (2004).