The Institute for Human Activities (IHA) began its operations in 2012 on a former Unilever plantation, located on a tributary of the Congo River, 800 kilometers up-stream from Kinshasa. Here, in one of the most disadvantaged regions of the world, the Institute launched its five-year Gentrification Program in order to recalibrate art’s critical mandate.
The art center serves as an in-vitro testing ground where the IHA mobilizes the modalities of art production, seeking to acknowledge the economic mechanisms through which art has the greatest impact on social reality. The institute uses capital accumulation as a tool for artistic intervention, enabling art to fully engage with its dependence on existing economic structures.
In the Congolese interior the IHA has building an art center which will generate a sustainable source of income for the local population through the production of critical art. It thus endeavors to make critical artistic reflection profitable for some of the poorest on the planet. The results will be shared with audiences in Africa and around the world through lectures, exhibitions, film and television.
In June 2012 the Institute organized a seminar near a palm oil plantation in the Congolese rainforest, bringing together diverse stakeholders. Economist and urban studies theorist Richard Florida described the relevance of the arts to economic development.
In the summer of 2013, Canadian palm oil operator Feronia Inc. blocked public roads, reneged on contracts and destroyed IHA's headquarters. It also confiscated artworks in which children of plantation workers expressed their vision of the future, made in workshops led by therapist Rony Berger. The IHA was forced to leave its buildings and the communities with whom it had been working in close collaboration.
The IHA has since resettled to an undisclosed location in the DRC. It is here that the IHA continues to explore how art that is fully engaged with the globalized conditions of its own functioning can make more profound claims on reality.
Following these events, René Ngongo (recipient of the 2009 Right Livelihood Award and former director of Greenpeace Congo) launched the Congolese Plantation Workers Art League. This League is a consensus-driven community that strives to facilitate the reintegration of Congolese plantation workers into current global debates.
The IHA is a research project at Yale University, University College Ghent, and the Akademie der Künste der Welt in Cologne.