#55_Untitled (Detail) by Djilatendo

#55 Untitled (Detail) by Djilatendo 1931.

Democratic Republic of the Congo Pencil and watercolor on paper

Djilatendos graphic shows the geometric pattern of a chessboard, the fields of which are painted with watercolor in the colors purple, black, red and dark green. The eggshell-colored drawing paper adds a fifth color to the palette. The drawing of the grid in pencil can be seen through the color application. The chessboard is framed on all sides by a formerly aubergine-purple stripe, the color of which has almost completely faded, just as the fields painted in the same color. Djilatendo‘s signature suggests a horizontal reading of the pattern and is located approximately in the middle of the bottom row of the chessboard. The words written in ink say „Tshelatendu à Ibahse le 1/12/31“. It is believed that Djilatendo signed his works at the request of his commissioner Georges Thiery. However, the spelling of his name varies on the individual sheets (e.g. „Tschelatenduo“ or „Tschielatendu“). „Tshelatendu“¹ was introduced by Thiery in Belgium as „Djilatendo“ and is known today under this name. „Ibashe“ or „Tschibashi“ is Djilatendo’s hometown.

Djilatendo‘s graphics in the Iwalewahaus collection were purchased from the estate of the Belgian colonial official Gaston Denis Pèrier. The latter had been the director of the Ministry of Colonies and had asked one of his colonial civil servants, Georges Thiery, in the late 1920s and early 1930s to look for murals in the Congo. Thiery was impressed by a mural on Djilatendo‘s hut and commissioned him to transfer the motifs of the murals onto paper using watercolor paints. Thiery bought his paintings either with money or with European consumer goods and sent them to Brussels to Pèrier, who organized exhibitions for Djilatendo‘s and Albert Lubaki‘s works in Europe and wrote articles about the artists.

Djilatendo‘s geometric watercolors are in the tradition of wall and body painting. He varied the motif of the chessboard as a theme. It is firmly integrated into the canon of decoration of the Lulua, the ethnic group to which Djilatendo belonged. The juxtaposition of the emerging positive and negative spaces causes the geometric pattern to vibrate and appears like the notation of rhythm.

Felicia Nitsche

master student and student assistant at Iwalewahaus

February 2020