“We must not stay in one place. We must spread out. We must take back all four corners of the Congo.” —Matthieu Kasiama, CATPC
Over the past century, plantations throughout the Global South have funded the construction of many American and European museums and arts institutions. The violence of this system continues today, as rainforests from Brazil to Indonesia are still cut down and turned into plantations, furthering global crises of inequality, as well as biodiversity loss and climate change. Extracted value is invested in cultural institutions in cities like New York and Paris, generating further wealth in the metropoles while leaving depleted landscapes and impoverished people on the plantations themselves.
In Congo, the palm oil plantations of the Lever Brothers—now Unilever—have long financed the Western art world, most recently the Unilever Series at Tate Modern in London. The work of the Congolese Plantation Workers’ Art League, known as CATPC, its French acronym, aims to reverse this dynamic. CATPC makes art, including sculpture, tapestry, and multimedia work, about the vision of the communities on the plantations. This work is created in Lusanga (formerly Leverville), the location of Unilever’s very first plantation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and then exhibited throughout the world in collaboration with Human Activities, an art institute founded by Dutch artist Renzo Martens dedicated to facilitating CATPC’s efforts.
With the resulting profits, CATPC has been able to buy back five hundred acres of exhausted plantation land in Lusanga—a Post-Plantation returning land ownership and food security to a community long devastated by poverty. The CATPC has begun reforesting these exhausted lands in an effort to combat the rampant deforestation that values capital over living beings and threatens not only the Congolese but human lives worldwide. The Post-Plantation is a place where both community and nature can thrive.
In 2019, CATPC’s founding members Ced’art Tamasala and Matthieu Kasiama traveled from Lusanga to Kilamba, the village where Belgian colonial officer Maximilien Balot was killed during the 1931 revolt by the Pende people, an ethnic group of the DRC, against years of forced labor and other atrocities on the Lever plantations. Tamasala and Kasiama captured the following images on their way to Kilamba, where they hoped to find more information about a sculpture carved by the Pende in 1931 to stop Balot’s spirit from causing more harm. As they discovered, the sculpture is actually held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.