The Phillips Collects: Aimé Mpane

Congolese artist Aimé Mpane (b. 1968), the son of a sculptor and cabinet-maker, and a sculptor and painter himself, splits his time between Kinshasha, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Brussels, Belgium. His work is deeply humanistic and appeals to the collective historical consciousness. Working primarily with wood and an adze—a traditional African woodworking tool—Mpane creates sculptures, mosaic-like wall hangings, and portraits carved on wood that explore the character of contemporary Congo, while demonstrating a deep understanding of its history. Mpane’s artworks often address the aftermath of Belgian colonialism and the Mobutu regime in Congo, while his brightly painted portraits of the men, women, and children he meets on the streets of Kinshasa give insight into modern Congolese identity. As he has said, “My work tells of hope, courage, empathy, and endurance.”

The Phillips Collection recently acquired Maman Calcule, 2013, a powerful example of Mpane’s larger mosaic works made up of over a thousand small painted blocks of plywood.

Photo of Aimé Mpane, Maman Calcule, 2013

Aimé Mpane, Maman Calcule, 2013, Mural on pieces of wood, 83 x 73 in., The Phillips Collection, Dreier Fund for Acquisitions. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

The back side of the pieces of Maman Calcule are painted red, producing a glow on the wall behind it. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Detail of Maman Calcule

As part of the Phillips’s efforts to grow the international foundation of the collection established by Duncan Phillips, this is the second work by Mpane to enter the collection. The first, Mapasa, 2012, was acquired from (e)merge, the contemporary art fair that took place at the Capitol Skyline Hotel every year between 2011 and 2015. Mapasa is a colorful, rough-hewn double-portrait of two sisters, carved out of plywood in his signature style.

Aimé Mpane, Mapasa, 2012, Acrylic and mixed media on two wooden panels, each panel: 12 1/2 in x 12 in., The Phillips Collection, The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Award, 2012

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