November 6, 2014 - December 19, 2014
CCS Bard

video still from Spectres (2012), Sven Augustijnen

Spectres, an ongoing project of Belgian artist Sven Augustijnen,  revisits one of the most shameful events of European colonial history: the abduction, torture, and execution of Patrice Lumumba, the first elected Prime Minister of independent Congo.

As founder and leader of the Mouvement National Congolais, Lumumba helped win his country’s independence from Belgium in 1960. Twelve weeks into his term as Prime Minister, Lumumba decisively opposed the secession of the mineral-rich and Belgian-backed province of Katanga, when, amid civil unrest, Colonel Joseph Mobutu organized a coup d’état. Lumumba was ultimately sent to Katanga, where he was executed by firing squad on January 17, 1961. The United Nations, which Lumumba had asked to come to the Congo, did not intervene to save him. Belgium, the United States, and the United Kingdom have all been accused of complicity and involvement in Lumumba’s death and the subsequent overthrow of one of Africa’s first democratically elected governments.

Augustijnen’s film follows Jacques Brassinne de La Buissière, a French-speaking Belgian who was a civil servant based in Katanga at the time of Lumumba’s assassination. Now a historian haunted by the “Congo crisis,” Brassinne serves as the film’s guide through locations in Belgium and the DR Congo, searching for the truth of these traumatic events through his own construction of historical narrative. Taking its title from Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx (1993), the film shows how the ghosts of the past remain with us, complicating our relation to history, truth, and our own complicity in events seemingly distant.

In 2012, after Augustijnen’s film was completed, the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office accepted an application submitted by the widow and sons of Lumumba, requesting an investigation into his murder in 1961. Brassinne is one of the eight surviving Belgians under investigation.

In a recent interview, Augustijnen quotes philosopher Hannah Arendt, who is buried in the cemetery at Bard College: “The world in which we live today is at each moment the world of the past. It consists of moments and relics of what man has done for better or worse; in other words, it is entirely right to say that we are haunted by the past…”[1] With a lens focused on one moment of anti-colonialism and neocolonial power, Spectres presents an artifact of contemporary globalization and social injustice.

Spectres (103 min. 08 sec.) will be screened at 11:30am, 1:30pm, and 3:30pm. Concurrently, Augustijnen exhibits archival elements of this expansive research project, including various literature and publications, posters, and artifacts, throughout the public spaces and library of the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College.

Widely exhibited in Europe (including WIELS Contemporary Art Center in Brussels, and De Appel in Amsterdam in 2011-2012) and screened internationally, this presentation of Spectres is the first of its kind in the United States.

Spectres at CCS Bard was initiated by Fionn Meade, Senior Curator of Cross-Disciplinary Platforms at The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, as well as an alumni of CCS Bard.

[1] The quote references a passage in “Home to Roost: A Bicentennial Address,” The New York Times Book Review, 26 June 1975.
Copryright Fionn Meade unless otherwise stated