Bodys Isek Kingelez's City Dreams

By Camille Wong

  “Stars Palme Bouygues.” Courtesy of NPR. Photograph by Mark Abramson

“Stars Palme Bouygues.” Courtesy of NPR. Photograph by Mark Abramson

Located in the MOMA is a fantastic, bright, and imaginative metropolis city made entirely out of everyday items— paper, cardboard, cardstock and found detritus. In Bodys Isek Kingelez’s City Dreams, a collection of work created in the 1990’s, he has imagined a future for Kinshasa, the capital city of The Democratic Republic of Congo. Known as Zaire at the time, the country was growing exponentially fast— too fast for its urban planning and infrastructure to keep pace. In his own recreated vision of the city, he creates a “city that breathes nothing but joy, the beauty of life.”

This poses the question of what attributes make an ideal city.

The answer differs depending on who you ask. Kingelez describes his perfect city as one where boulevards are never congested, restaurants serve cuisine from all around the world, and everyone can feel at home. Engaged with world affairs, Kingelez believed that a peaceful world could be achieved through cooperation, communication, and education. At the heart of his work, Kingelez creates a better world for everyone-- a globalized utopia sans the consequences of population growth and development.

 “The Scientific Center of Hospitalisation the SIDA,” from 1991. Courtesy Groninger Museum Collection; photograph by Marten de Leeuw

“The Scientific Center of Hospitalisation the SIDA,” from 1991. Courtesy Groninger Museum Collection; photograph by Marten de Leeuw

Influenced by Zaire’s independence from the Belgian Congo, Kingelez tried his hand at nation-building by constructing imaginative cities with the purpose of benefitting its inhabitants. We see his global consciousness in the piece, The Scientific Center of Hospitalisation the SIDA (1991), where he creates a hospital and research facility for patients with AIDS— an epidemic that inflicted an estimated six to eight percent of the population of Zaire. In his hospital, we see four floors, three buildings, and plenty of real estate for patients to seek help and medication. While his cityscape seems to teeter between the realm of fiction and novel, his piece also screams a desperation for change.

 “E’toile Rouge Congolaise” 1990. Courtesy of the Pigozzi Collection, CAAC. Photograph by Maurice Aeschimann

“E’toile Rouge Congolaise” 1990. Courtesy of the Pigozzi Collection, CAAC. Photograph by Maurice Aeschimann

Roofs that scallop, buildings that resemble the tents of circuses, and colors borrowed from Zaire’s national flag, we see a festive city brimming with virtue and exuberance. E’toile Rouge Congolaise (1990), is a standalone building with no explicit visual indicator of its purpose. However, it is impressive, nonetheless, demonstrating his architectural mastery. With bright, vivid colors that draw you near, closer observation reveals clever details— lanterns hanging symmetrically at the center of the building, the small red star on the face of the building mimicking the red star atop the building. From its didactic, we learn that this maquette envisioned a “High Multicultural Court of Wisdom” which promoted arts and education. From works overtly political and commenting on Congo and the world’s current affairs to lavish models that leave you in awe of its imagination and intricacy, each of his works is a critique offering his suggestion on how to create a more peaceful world.

Part whimsy, part design, his models act as blueprints for the future-- the future of a building, of a society, and eventually of a realized global utopia. From this exhibition, you can feel a yearning for a brighter future. City Dreams is an armature for a more peaceful world that transcends geographical place and time. It’s unfortunate to think that this utopia can only be realized in painted paper and cardstock. However, the very title of the exhibition seems to seal its own fate— that of a dream.

Camille Wong