Mwenze Kibwanga (1925-1999), Democratic Republic of the Congo


, 1955

Oil on canvas

22 x 31 in. (56 x 79 cm)


About this artwork

This hunting scene shows a dramatic moment when an antelope, with beautifully curved horns, is set upon by a dog almost as large as itself, just as a well-armed hunter is about to plunge a spear into its back. The hunter carries a second spear in his other hand and a large axe is tucked into the back of his belt. The dog looks ready to bite the antelope as he holds its flanks. Even the tips of the large green leaves surrounding the antelope are shaped like spears.

The antelope is a poor match for the hunter, with his many weapons and large dog. The painting could make one wonder where Kibwanga’s sympathies lie - maybe with the antelope with the beautiful horns.

Mwenze Kibwanga often painted animals in the forest, along with scenes of village life. Until 1952, he painted with his thumb and then he began using a brush to make thick cross-hatched lines and small, thick bars to create the form of objects, using a palette of mostly ochre, beige, brown, green and black. According to one reviewer, this method gave his subjects a springy elasticity. The reviewer also noted that these bars and lines sometimes made objects in his work look like textiles, which, perhaps, reflected the influence of his father, who was a weaver.

Kibwanga was associated with the Hangar in Elisabethville, later known as the Academy of Popular Indigenous Art. (The name of Elisabethville was later changed to Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.) He was admitted to the Hangar in 1950 and remained there until the death of its founder, Pierre Romain-Desfossés.

Romain-Desfossés was a key figure in the life of Kibwanga and a cohort of Congolese artists who studied with him during the post-war period. Romain-Desfossés had served in the French military during the war and fought for the Free French in Chad. (While in Chad, he hired a guard named Bela Sara, who later became one of the best-known artists from the region).

Many artists from the Hangar later developed international reputations. In interviews carried out in Swahili, Mwenze Kibwanga and Pilipili talked about the pivotal role Romain-Desfossés had in their lives. They said he encouraged them to develop their own originality, and, rather than copy European artists’ styles and themes, to paint scenes from village life and nature.

Kibwanga said that before entering the Hangar, he had been learning to paint portraits commissioned by Europeans in the Belgian Congo and that the greatest influence on his work at that time was Rubens’ use of line and color. But all that changed when he met Romain-Desfossés who told him to paint nature and village scenes. He taught Kibwanga and other artists in his group to draw what they saw during their walks in the forest or visited the zoo. Romain-Desfossés inspired these artists to find their own vision, but, according to Kibwanga, he also kept a large part of the money he made from selling their work. So far, no other complaints of this kind by other artists have been found.

According to the Congolese artist Kaniemba, Kibwanga was the most talented of the artists of his generation. His work is in collections in museums in the Netherlands and in the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. He was part of the Beauté Congo show at the Fondation Cartier in Paris in 2015-16.

“Artcurial to open an exhibition of the ‘Artists of Le Hangar’.” Art Daily. Accessed March 15, 2023.

Artcurial*. “*The Artists of the Hangar, at the Origins of Contemporary African Art.” African Modern Art. Auction March 24, 2021. Accessed March 15, 2023.

Dr Carol Ann Dixon. “Senghor’s Contribution to the Making of Dakar as an Art World City.” Museum Geographies, August 20, 2014.

Elizabeth Harney. In Senghor's Shadow: Art, Politics, and the Avant-Garde in Senegal, 1960–1995. Duke University Press, November 2004.