“A renewed global focus on racism is highlighting a violent colonial history that generated riches for Belgians but death and misery for Congolese.”
Later that month:
King Philippe of Belgium on Tuesday expressed his “deepest regrets” for his country’s brutal past in a letter to the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the first public acknowledgment from a member of the Belgian royal family of the devastating human and financial toll during eight decades of colonization.
The king’s letter, issued on the 60th anniversary of Congo’s independence, acknowledged the historical legacy and pointed out continuing issues of racism and discrimination, though it stopped short of the apology that some, including the United Nations, had asked for.
Among the legacies of Belgium’s colonial experience called rightly into question is the “official” museum in Brussels, which has struggled to rebrand in recent years.
In Congo itself, it’s perhaps surprising that there’d be a city with 100 surviving Art Deco structures. We harbor so many misconceptions about Africa. One is size; Congo is 3.5 times larger than Texas, and that’s huge. It is striking, and also slightly puzzling, that some people in Bukavu view the legacy of these buildings as something worthy of protection. Maybe they view it in the context of cultural education. In spite of what I’ve been told the past few days, history is important.
The Art Deco Capital of Central Africa, by Carly Lunden (Atlas Obscura)
In Bukavu, beautiful buildings have an ugly colonial history. But locals want to save them.
… Bukavu has more than 100 Art Deco buildings. Walking through its streets, you see geometric lines, chevron motifs, stepped rectangles, curved walls with cylindrical roofs. But most of these structures, with the notable exception of the Cathedral, are now dusty and beginning to crumble. “People used to call this city the ‘Switzerland of Congo,’” says Pierre Mpemba, 55, a local historian. “We were known for all these beautiful buildings. But that’s disappearing.”
Too often, this architectural history is forgotten in a city that outsiders associate with endangered gorillas, Africa’s First World War, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege, and the ongoing presence of humanitarian agencies and UN peacekeepers.
Beginning in Europe in the 1920s and 30s, Art Deco symbolized modernism, the technological future, the “machine age.” All clean and curved lines, geometric shapes, bright colors and glamour, the style was meant to signal wealth and sophistication. As it spread from Europe to places that Europeans colonized, it also symbolized and beautified imperial domination, according to scholars such as Swati Chattopadyay in the Routeledge Companion to Art Deco …