Framed by a green border, Atoinet Lubaki depicted a scene containing three men and a large bird. The figures move and observe the bird. Their western attire, elaborately detailed with pockets, buttons and folds, demonstrates the painter’s attention for the visual language and representation of colonial modernity.
Ationet Lubaki is one of the few known female Congolese artists from the early 20th century. Male artists dominate the repertoire of 20th century African modern art in part as the result of a colonial bias. Central African women often made body painting, textiles, or decorated house and compound walls. Few however, were invited to transition their work to paper, and female artistic activities were routinely regarded as inferior by colonial officials. Atoinet Lubaki and her husband Albert, who lived in Elisabethville (today’s Lubumbashi) in the mining-rich Katanga region, drew the attention of Belgian colonial official George Thiry because of the decoration on the exterior of their house. Thiry encouraged them to compose watercolor scenes on paper. Together with Gaston-Dénis Périer, a colleague in the ministry of colonies in Brussels, Thiry exhibited the work of the Lubakis in Brussels and other European capitals in the 1920s.
Although the Lubakis‘ work met with only limited success in Europe, Périer became a fervent supporter of what he called colonial ‘art vivant’ (living art), which he described as authentic in inspiration and conceptualization, but modern in form. He subsequently lobbied for the establishment of laws and measures for the protection of the cultural heritage of the colony.
Together with other works from the Lubakis and of Congolese painter Djilatendo, this painting is one of a small group of watercolors now located in the Iwalewahaus collection. Acquired from a Brussels art dealer, Ivan Dierickx, in the 1980’s, the works trace back to the collection of Périer, and were likely among the works exhibited in the 1920s.
Sarah Van Beurden
Ohio State University
August 28, 2016