A collective surviving through punk
Célia Lutangu is a situationist. In addition to working with her two collectives – Bledarte and Leaving Living Dakota – she is busy making feminist decolonisation happen through exhibitions, performances and parties, which started out as a remedy to fund artistic practices but eventually turned into a way to build a community. We meet at BOZAR to walk through Incarnations, an exhibition of Sindika Dokolo’s African art collection pieces curated by Kendell Geers. Incarnations connects various timelines and promises to be free of the Western-gaze. We chat to map out how the themes (and actions) of de-colonizing live on different levels between the institutions and the bottom-up initiatives.
Interview by Weronika Zalewska
Photos shot by Tiny Geeroms in BOZAR, Brussels
Decolonial feminists &
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently busy with my two collectives. The first one is Bledarte – we are 5 POC women working on giving spaces to POC artists, thinkers and dancers. We describe ourselves as decolonial feminists. The other project is Leaving Living Dakota – I run it with a Swiss friend, Seelik Mutti. We both came here to study, yet we very quickly realized that there were too many great things happening around. We ended up quitting school and trying to make things happen [laughs]. Together we call ourselves sauvage curators – we have no big connections or experience, but a desire to meet artists and have them meet others. Every 4 months we invite artists for one week to work with a topic of their choice. They are artists and curators at the same time, which is quite empowering. We also do parties to raise money.
How did these collaborations come to be?
They just happened. As we came to Belgium, we really wanted to see more savage exhibitions, and mostly just meet people. We started visiting different schools, talking to people. ‘We’re gonna do an expo, do you wanna take part?’ We are still so surprised it all played out the way it did. It’s cool; we don’t speak Flemish but we hear more of it. It’s nice that people mix at the parties.
Do you feel the parties express what you stand for?
Yes. There’s a line of consistency – we book DJ’s carefully, so that they aren’t all white men; we organise parties in places with non binary bathrooms and we don’t have security. It starts with facilities. Now, Decoratelier – the crew we work with – and we are in the phase of figuring out our next steps as the parties are getting very crowded. It’s difficult yet interesting to try to address this with inclusivity. There are so many fantastic musicians here too. It’s great to connect globally but it’s also easy to fall into the trap of fame and big names. So we love working locally.
It’s great to connect globally but we love to work locally
Can the party be a middle ground between the city and the art practice?
We try to communicate with people who don’t have papers, everyone’s always free to come, we want it to be accessible to everybody. Last year we did a party in Molenbeek and we invited some guys from the neighbourhood – they can’t get into clubs easily, they are mostly refused at the entrance. They spontaneously ended up doing security. We realised too late that maybe we should’ve talked to them and give some guidelines. At a certain moment, someone was leaving with a bike and they thought they were stealing it [laughs].
What are your impressions of the cultural scene in Brussels?
I think the youth is differently active here, compared to Switzerland. Surely, there are some trends that are extremely evident, like everywhere in the world. But still, in a way, nobody cares here. There is no pressure to do something and yet there is energy to do it. You can develop a project, an idea, a movement, and then ask: who wants to follow? There is no heavy judgement. At least everybody tries and feels free – I love the city for this. I live with a girl who became like my little sister. She’s not studying but she decided she wants to do music – and she’s doing it! She introduced me to a whole crew of people who are completely self-educated. I also know people in Brussels who aren’t particularly busy but who are just open, present without pressure. I like this energy.
Just open, present without pressure. I like this energy
What do you feel is the connection between your cultural practice and this exhibition?
Broadly speaking, there is a common link between this exhibition and my work as a curator. I want to put forth African and non-white contemporary artists from the diaspora as well. I really believe that the narratives of those groups of people are rich, authentic and need to be seen, heard and contemplated more. BPOC artists must not talk about their identities at all costs, but because of their legacy and personal stories, they have a wealth of approaches to various themes.
I think it’s powerful when stories can exist by themselves without the Western approval
And what’s your reflection on Incarnations as a means of new representation?
There are some strong works in the collection. But I cannot help the feeling that despite the artists being African or African descendants, the exhibition – and not only this one – mostly creates a narrative for white people. The black history is of course linked with white people but it would be so interesting to let people speak for themselves, with themselves – to figure how they want to talk about blackness to their own community. I think it’s powerful when stories can exist by themselves without the Western approval, though it is so difficult in the reality of global standards. I don’t want to talk for the artists but I think it is crucial for an institution to widen this possibility. A lot of us must click on this, we are so used to the heritage of anthropology, and showing the other. How can we really talk about us, walking out of Western art schools which shape our language? What is blackness? There isn’t one answer.
Do you think there should be more collaboration between institutions and the self-made initiatives?
I believe that collaboration is useful for small collectives regarding infrastructures and money, but the passion and connection really happens outside of big offices. As long as institutions give green light to the self-made collectives, the magic can still happen in a less tiring way for the young artists/curators.
Was there a particular work that moved you in the exhibition?
Lifeline / Discoloured – the piece by Berni Searle touched me a lot, maybe the most. I’m always looking for art pieces that show a mysterious but powerful story. This work has it all! Also, very dynamic graphism.
‘Incarnations’ is on view at BOZAR until October 6th.
The exhibition is free for Subbacultcha members for the month of July.
Become a member here.