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Demif Gallery: Portraits of Black Female Artists – Rachel Malaika Nkumisongo

Demif Gallery: Portraits of Black Female Artists – Rachel Malaika Nkumisongo

Over the last few weeks I’ve been in conversation with Edo Ndeke Co-Founder, Commercial and Project Manager of Demif Gallery – about showcasing their work, discovering the inspiration behind the collections and bringing to the fore, the driving force behind each woman’s artistry.

I had the pleasure of interviewing four phenomenal Women: Rachel Malaika Nkumisongo; Claudie Titty Dimbeng; Aza Mansongi and Angela Franklin-Faye.

Next up is Rachel Malaika Nkumisongo

Born in Kinshasa, where she lives and works, Rachel Malaika Nkumisongo is a multidisciplinary artist as she combines painting, installation and photography. But the latter remains for her a medium of predilection. Manipulating her camera to bring out whatever passes through her mind or imagination is her form of expressive art. A victim of abuse during childhood, her passion for art acted as therapy, a cathartic tool used to address her trauma in order to face life differently. Influenced greatly by photographers Yann Arthus-Bertrand and David Lachapelle, Rachel Malaika adopted them as role models. Rachel is currently part of the collective “Bokutani Artistes Réunis”, bringing together young Kinshasa artists for the development and promotion of contemporary art in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Tell us how your journey with art begins? 

Rachel Malaika Nkumisongo: Le Garçon Au Parapluie Rouge, 2020

Rachel Malaika Nkumisongo: Le Garçon Au Parapluie Rouge, 2020

My journey with art can be traced back to my childhood, I was born in Zaïre (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo), I can recall that as a child, friends and I would play a “game of chats” which consists of illustrations on the ground, telling our everyday stories. The popularity of this game (‘lisolo’ in Congolese) translates to chat or tale, was so widespread that it almost became an occupation for the children outside of their school activities.

I became drawn to working with paper and experimented with cloth at a young age, transforming characters into rag dolls. Being transfixed with creation, I began to spend more time creating art than paying attention to my school homework! Later, I became an apprentice to a professional artist from the neighbourhood who had his workshop in our area.

Despite strong opposition from my parents, I enrolled into an art school. I was motivated by the discrediting and rejection of art by those around me, with their belief that as a profession, is financially and socially unproductive – this is a common and widespread belief, especially when referring to women in the DRC.

Share your experience of being a female artist in Congo?

In Kinshasa, the communities of artists suffer, with a lack of interest from the general public to pursue the viewing and purchasing of art. We have a deep tribal history of craftsmanship, we know this has value and see that popular masks, for example, are reproduced and sold to tourists. Whereas contemporary art is forgotten and left behind. Contemporary arts are overlooked, and in fact, the percentage of female artists is low, as a result, a female artist in the Congo becomes a subject of hardship and neglect.

There is the Kinshasa Académie de Beaux Arts, and a rising group of artists which are gaining the attention from the wider population and international appreciators of art. We have several big African collectors who seek to boost the industry and knowledge of African heritage and more contemporary issues. I would like to see more collectors spreading our story.

Music, on the other hand is widely celebrated in the Congo, with the diaspora having a great appreciation and fan base; I would like to see the same appreciation in the Contemporary African Arts scene in the DRC.

What is integral to your work?

Rachel Malaika Nkumisongo: Untitled, 2020

Rachel Malaika Nkumisongo: Untitled, 2020

My works question taboos in society and explores religious iconography, Christianity is central to cultures in the Congo, some of my work focuses on the representation of women in high-ranking positions in the church, which is not something that we see here. I also explore the role of the man in society, and see beauty and hope in our younger generation.

What is the status of female artists in Congo?

Legally, the artistic sector is not regulated in the Congo by politicians, and therefore, no status is defined in favour of female artists. Socially, she is considered as a nobody, despite the fact she is a freedom fighter for her own emancipation. The conditions of women in my society is something that I would like to see change.

What are you plans for this year?

I am focusing on my artistic research in the classification of various ancestral masks based on their figurative movements and their symbolic patterns that define their utility. I am also working on aesthetic elements, including female body scarification in traditional African society.

I have been involved with an online exhibition “The Shape of The New” which is a 29 artist collective that all interpret different responses to the last year and how we see the future. COVID-allowing, I would also love to be showing my work at exhibitions with Demif Gallery in London.

What are you looking to achieve with your art?

I seek to achieve an ideal framework of awareness. The main concern that drives me is to bring my contemplators to the appropriation of their original identity, which remains the only framework for triggering the true process of development. I see women leading this discussion and hope that more artists in The DRC will be inspired to join this movement.

***

Demif Gallery is an online art gallery, built with passion, dedicated to art lovers and collectors, founded by Didier Demif, a trained artist, writer and communications specialist. The founder’s mission is to promote cultural diversity and young minority ethnic artists, with a particular focus on Contemporary African art. Located in England, they sell artwork from an exquisite pool of emerging young artists from the UK and around the world. As well as being an online gallery, Demif Gallery also commissions art, organises and runs pop up art exhibitions and takes part in national and international art fairs.

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Header Image: Rachel Malaika Nkumisongo – La Vierge Noire, 2020

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