Writers Do Laundry Too + TIME

The Congolese Diaspora in Belgium: Imaginaries and Postcolonial Relations in the Artistic Field

Deadline: 25 March 2013

In 2010, Belgium (via its institutions, the media and civil society) celebrated the 50th anniversary of Congolese independence with a certain glorification of Belgo-Congolese relations. Yet, Belgium is far from having fully entered a postcolonial era of self-criticism. Despite the indisputable postcolonial historiographical renewal of the 1990s, the dominant ideology appears as permanently caught up in the paternalistic myth of a glorious and civilising colonial mission. The public apologies that followed the commissions of inquiry that brought to light the violence of the colonial power (e.g. Patrice Lumumba, genocide in Rwanda) did not put an end to the colonial disputes, as illustrated for instance by the controversies surrounding the inauguration of a street or a statue in Lumumba's memory.

Moreover, the colonial question does not simply boil down to territorial and temporal otherness since, as Congolese people living in Belgium constitute a minority group of migrants, one can only observe how they are considered as other and are subject to social and racial discrimination. The fact that Belgium is no longer Congolese migrants’ preferred destination (they now prefer places such as France, Africa, or Asia) is most relevant in this context. Recent demographical data report heavy unemployment in Belgium among this community despite its high level of education. If figures can partly explain the new geographical diasporas, they do not account for the social relations from which this postcolonial paradox emerges.

In view of the social, racial and territorial distancing practices against Congolese people, and the migratory policies which never took their arrival and settlement into account, one is tempted to assert that these discriminations are structural and consequently embedded in Belgian society as a whole. Although this hypothesis cannot not be confirmed because of a lack of empirical work in the field, we would like to submit it to the artistic field.

If in the literary context the Jean Muno prize awarded to Koli Jean Bofane for his novel Mathématiques congolaises (2008) marks the beginning of an acknowledgment of Congolese literary expression and memory, the hype around David Van Reybrouck’s Congo : une histoire (2010) and the debates it initiated nevertheless reiterate the persistence of Belgo-Congolese conflicts regarding the colonial and postcolonial history of the Congo. Beyond these two well-known, if differently established, figures, how are the literary field and the other artistic fields such as visual arts, cinema, painting, comics, and hip hop developing? In what ways have the post-colonial relations between the two countries fuelled modes of creation, promotion and visibility for these artists? How has this artistic field come into being and developed? To what extent and in what ways do these artistic expressions participate in a (de)construction of the national narrative ? Are these expressions to be considered within a continuum or are they breaking with the imaginaries and the representations of Belgium within the Congolese diaspora? Last but not least, how do the Belgo-Congolese relations emerge and materialize in the diasporic imagination? Those are the questions that will be discussed within the context of this conference that will gather researchers from various disciplines.

The questions and topics that could be addressed include, but are not limited to:

  • The place of Belgium within the diasporic geography in religious, cultural (like Sape) or institutional settings (university, NGO, etc.)
  • Representations of Belgium created during temporary migratory periods in Europe (holidays, professional stays, migrations, etc) or within a dynamics of return.
  • Comparative perspectives on the Belgian (post)migratory situation within the Congolese diaspora.
  • Colonisation and the Belgo-Congolese colonial dispute through a diasporic lens and in the Belgian and Belgo-Congolese artistic expressions.
  • Identity questions in the literary texts written by Congolese diasporic artists in Belgium.
  • Cultural memory of the Congolese diaspora: the Congo as a source of inspiration for Congolese people living in Belgium.
  • Congolese diaspora and intermediality: comics, graphic and visual arts, music, museums. What messages for what audiences?
  • Ghettoization and hybridity within the Congolese community of Belgium.
Abstracts of 250 words should be sent to congolesediasporaconference@gmail.com by March 25th 2013 with a bio-bibliography.


For queries/ submissions: congolesediasporaconference@gmail.com

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The Congolese Diaspora in Belgium: Imaginaries and Postcolonial Relations in the Artistic Field + TIME