Biennale de Kinshasa (YANGO)
Jean Kamba lives and works in Kinshasa. He graduated with a degree (BAC +5) in information sciences and communication at the National Pedagogical University of Kinshasa (UPN), at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities in 2012. Writer, poet, journalist, and critic of art, he also organizes exhibitions. Assistant of research at the Kinshasa Academy of Fine Arts, Kamba is also one of the members of the Kinshasa-Africa cluster in the network “Another road map school.” He works in the management of artistic projects focused on contemporary art. He worked on the first Kinshasa Biennale: “Biennale de Kinshasa (YANGO).”
1. What was your motivation to work on a biennial? What was your position/task?
I was motivated by the simple fact of participating in an event of this magnitude—a first biennial held in Kinshasa by a young Congolese Kiripi Katembo. I worked on the writing of artists' texts, too, and I sometimes helped in technical terms.
2. How can you describe the model of the biennial you worked for, also compared to other biennials?
It was an artistic event different from what we were accustomed to seeing: a set of good quality exhibitions with various kinds of artistic expressions from elsewhere. Local artists were mixed with those of international fame, and the differences were not easily read. Compared to other biennials such as LUBUMBASHI, I would say that the Kinshasa Biennial was done according to the realities of Kinshasa.
3. What goals/wishes are connected with your biennials? What should be achieved? What were your personal goals?
The Biennale of Kinshasa (Yango) had the aim of disrupting the art scene in Kinshasa in particular and Congolese in general. The promotion of young local artists through the consideration of international professional artists was one of the objectives. On my side, I also aimed a positioning on the national and international scene through professional contacts.
4. Biennials have proliferated as the art world has scaled in size and global reach in recent decades; however, very little information exists about the exact number, geographical reach, and funding and governance structures of these arts organizations. Can we compare biennials at all?
Although there are multiple biennales,I do not believe that it is necessary to compare them because each one is done according to a precise context. For example, with the Biennale of Kinshasa, the workforce was local and almost everybody worked in technical terms. I remember how one day the curator told us that everyone (writers, artists, etc.) had to work and lend a hand to mount the exhibition... I believe biennials are subject to local realities that remain the peeper not to neglect.
5. Biennials provide a point of convergence for the art world, expose large audiences to art (and other disciplines and mediums), and catalyze interest in cities and regions with global aspirations. Do biennials necessarily have a positive social and economic impact?
In our country, the Biennale of Kinshasa was not in this logic. It is more the artistic community that could profit from this opportunity, but the general public was not interested in this event. It is a little difficult to quantify the impact of this event on the
general public, but I believe that it is only the artistic community that benefited.
6. Can you talk about the funding processes and sources? How do you think this affects the biennial? Does it affect it at all?
I was not in the organization, but I know that the organizers had trouble with the funding because the partners who had promised to contribute desisted at the last minute, so the things were done in a pinch. Through the courage and determination of the initiator of the project cited above, and through the limited funding provided by some sponsors installed in the country, the Yango Biennale was born. I think that external funding greatly affects biennials, because they affect the conditions and the organization. Moreover, other partners do not give money but rather in material terms.
7. What sort of curatorial, institutional, or technological innovations can help ensure the vibrancy and relevance of biennials going forward?
I think it will take a curatorial logic focused on the interventionist conception of art in society and not one that advocates the pure and simple commercialization of works of art. I am often against the way that the curator promotes a sort of networking in the form of a coterie. The curator must design a project based on the realities of the city of the biennial and expect a structuring of visible impacts in the medium- and long-term—this artistically and socially because a biennial involves the identity of a city and a whole people.