Professor Sikitele-Gize on the BaPende revolt at the Matter of Critique II

11 September 2015

At the Matter of Critique II conference in DR Congo, one of the presenters was the renowned Professor Charles Sikitele-Gize of L’Université de Kinshasa spoke lengthily about the revolt of the BaPende in 1931. He states: “while commonly described as an ethnic conflict, he pointed out it was an uprising against forced labour recruitment for Unilever. A crucial point in his discourse was the way the colonial government broke down the BaPende resistance, not just by killing the entire BaPende leadership, but also by forbidding art production - a remarkable fact, as museums all over Europe and the US had by then stockpiled BaPende artefacts.

That situation is not too different from what happened in these last years: the BaPende and their peers still work for 200 USD per year (that is 200 USD per year for a full time job) on plantations producing Unilever products, while Tate Modern shows Tino Sehgal's renditions of the impact of changing labour conditions, sponsored by Unilever.