“The most striking thing about monuments is that you don’t notice them. There is nothing in the world as invisible as a monument.” — Robert Musil, 1927
In the exhibition Colonial Monuments in Belgium Bee be part Kortrijk, Belgian photographer Jan Kempenaers (°1968, Heist-op-den-Berg, lives and works in Antwerp) shows a selection of one hundred photos of monuments that commemorate the colonial past of his country. Kempenaers is known for his photographs of urban and natural landscapes, architecture and monuments, which he has been shooting since the mid-1980s.
The Belgian public space has a considerable number of such monuments. Some colonial monuments were well-maintained at the time the photo was taken, others had been neglected or destroyed. Some monuments have since been removed. Surprisingly, some of the monuments were not erected until 2002 and 2005.
The entire exhibition reads like a collection, a typology of images that were once intended to confirm colonial thinking. However, Jan Kempenaers is an artist, not an archivist. The photos are therefore not documentary and do not always show the monuments in their entirety. The photo of the monument to Father De Deken in Wilrijk, for example, emphasizes the threat posed by the hand hovering above the Congolese man’s head and the knee pressing on his back. When Kempenaers photographs the monument to baron Jacques de Diksmuide in Diksmuide, he places the figure of the Congolese slave in the center and we only get to see the baron’s feet and legs. Because the images are shot in black and white, the monuments in the photos almost blend into their surroundings. Kempenaers seems to ask us how often we casually walked past these monuments.
For example, the exhibition Colonial Monuments in Belgium does not present a series of state portraits that seek to confirm the legitimacy of colonial thinking. The photos question the status of these monuments and the thoughtful exhibition provides food for thought.
On the occasion of this exhibition, Roma Publications is publishing the book Jan Kempenaers, Belgian Colonial Monuments 2 with a text by Phillip Van den Bossche (Roma Publications 435). The first part of Belgian Colonial Monuments was published in 2019. During the exhibition, a set with both books and a print by Jan Kempenaers will be for sale at Be-Part.
About Jan Kempenaers
Jan Kempenaers (BE, 1968) lives and works in Antwerp. He studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent and at the Jan Van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. Since 2006 he is affiliated with the KASK School of Arts in Ghent.
Kempenaers has been photographing urban & natural landscapes, architectures and monuments since the mid-eighties. In 2012, he obtained his doctorate in visual arts about the picturesque. His most recent book Belgian Colonial Monuments is published by Roma Publications.
Jan Kempenaers Colonial monuments in Belgium
October 1 – December 11, 2022
Be-Part, Platform for contemporary art
Horse stables, Korte Kapucijnenstraat z/n, 8500 Kortrijk
Curator: Lara Verlinde