under construction: a new look at congolese artist patrick bongoy's gripping work
For Patrick Bongoy, the zero-waste movement and social consciousness take an unusual form. Creating things from discarded rubber, bound together by hand and curated to make work that is at once gripping and gentle, the Cape Town-based artist is shifting the way art, environment and society come together. Far from his native Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where he obtained two fine arts qualifications, and from which he fled after staging a work of protest art, Bongoy continues to push the limit of form and function to give his viewers a new perspective on often-recycled themes (pun intended).
At 38 years old, Bongoy is in a liminal space between being well known and still having a long career ahead of him. The nature of his sculptural work requires significant manual labour. Bending, twisting and remoulding his materials, calloused hands are par for the course – and in some ways, speak to his perspective on art, the environment and his visual activism. ‘I believe that as human beings, we have the ability to shape ourselves to become whoever we want to be,’ he says.
This sentiment is not a bumper-sticker attitude for Bongoy, but the point of departure for his work. He repeats the phrase ‘literal and figurative pollution’ throughout his responses to questions, talking about how individuals need to rethink and reimagine their relationships with the Earth and each other. Despite working in a country that is not his homeland, Bongoy doesn’t believe that his migration affects his medium or his message – after all, we are all engaged in the struggle for the world. Writing about his Ebony/Curated exhibition in Cape Town last year, art critic Mary Corrigall described this as his ‘survivalist ethos’.
‘What we pursue in our works can be personal, local and universal [at the same time]… I still see myself as being on a personal mission to expose, mirror and amplify what’s happening in our world,’ he says. The message rings clear. In one of the works, the petrifying yet playfully named ‘Killing Time’, it is clear that he is deeply influenced by having to leave his home country to avoid persecution. Like many of his creations, the work speaks to the heart of violent migration – of people, ideas and the Earth’s resources. For the DRC, where the pillaging of natural resources in places like South Kivu province and disenfranchisement of local people has long been on the international news agenda, Bongoy’s message couldn’t be more urgent.
His sense of consistent crusading reads as earnest and intentional. He is not an environmentalist warrior trying to make a splash, or a disparaging expat with an axe to grind. His mission is simple: excavate information and resources to elevate the viewer’s understanding.
This mission takes its next steps in his new body of work, still under (literal) construction. Entitled Remains, in Bongoy’s words, it ‘alludes to what is left behind as legacy, heritage or history’. Not just limiting his interest to human history, the work will speak to the erosion and ‘erasure’ of Earth and its human societies through the impact of the industrial age. Avoiding the overused ‘reuse, reduce, recycle’, Bongoy says that Remains – and all his work – is instead fiercely concerned with three new Rs: ‘remember, resurrect and recreate’.For more information on Bongoy's work visit ebonycurated.com.