Kingelez started to build his architectural sculptures in the early 1980s, beginning by composing individual structures like his 1982 Untitled, which shows the attenuated form of a church, crowned with an oversized white star. He worked as a restorer for a time at the Institut des Musées Nationaux du Zaïre to keep himself afloat—a job he secured after he took one of his maquettes to the museum on the recommendation of his neighbor. The staff there found the object, Musée National, so sophisticated that they accused him of stealing it, even demanding that he create another one in front of them in hope of catching him in a lie. As the story goes, Kingelez complied, conjuring Commissariat Atomique before their eyes—and leaving them so floored that they offered him a position at the institution.
Kingelez’s maquettes display a sense of civic pride—a belief that government institutions and urban populations can work in harmonious synchronicity—that aligns with the early enthusiasm for Mobutu’s era of post-independence growth in Kinshasa. “I’m taking the first step toward the most sophisticated, the highest civilization,” the artist says in a documentary film that is screened in the exhibition. But Kingelez’s work also manifests a critique, one born partly of the soured promise of independence as Kinshasa grew increasingly chaotic, Mobutu more despotic. It is, writes Okeke-Agulu, “spectacular architectural form as a counter-narrative to the dystopian realities of Kinshasa, the structural chaos of the Congolese state, and, ultimately, the anomie of the global-postcolonial epoch.”
Even as Kingelez’s work remained rooted in the conditions of Kinshasa, he cast an eye overseas, creating timely structures that represented nation states and transnational organizations around the world. In 1994, after the first Oslo Accord affirmed Palestine’s right to self-government, Kingelez created his Centrale Palestinienne (1994), a low-lying structure that supports a tower, all in the colors of the Palestinian flag. And for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, in 1994, he made a model for what looks like a glimmering casino with stars displayed evenly on its surface, representing the equality of the organization’s member countries.