Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam and KOW, Berlin proudly present the Cercle d'Art des Travailleurs de Plantations Congolaises (CATPC) at the Armory 2017 Focus Section.
Since 2014, the cooperative of plantation workers of CATPC, has created, exhibited, and sold self-portraits and larger sculptures. The portraits are first made in clay, after which they are scanned digitally in three dimensions. They are then casted in Congolese chocolate and sold as multiples in museums and art galleries such as the Van Abbemuseum, KunstWerke and SculptureCenter. The profits generated by sales are reinvested directly back into their community, enabling CATPC members both to buy back land and to develop an experimental, community-owned garden, which includes cacao plants.
CATPC works closely together with the Institute for Human Activities (IHA), whose goal is to have artistic engagement with global inequality bring economic empowerment to one of the most disenfranchised places in the world. Together they have founded the Lusanga International Research Centre for Art and Economic Inequality (LIRCAEI). The cornerstone of this research centre is an OMA designed white cube museum space.
The location is of crucial importance: the research centre will rise in Lusanga, formerly Leverville, where the Lever Brothers (later Unilever) founded their first palm oil plantation in 1911. For decades, the plantation system has exploited people, plants and landscapes for the benefit of remote investors. The immense wealth it generated has been partially redeployed in the arts. Institutions such as Tate Modern or the VanAbbe museum have for example been funded by plantation-generated capital.
The research centre is thus settled in the boiler room of global economic and symbolic structures that form the backbone of critically engaged art. It is only from here, at the crossroads of the main contemporary urgencies, that we may, in the hearth of the plantation system, redefine the mandate of art.