Luc Tuymans


Mwana Kitoko is a portrait of Belgium's former king Boudewijn I coming out of a plane that has just landed on the tarmac of our former colony the Congo. The King was very young at that time—twenty-four or twenty-five—and this was his first trip to the Congo. The nickname the Congolese gave him, Mwana Kitoko, means beautiful young boy. The Belgian government changed it to Bwana Kitoko, which means beautiful white nobleman, to stress the fact that he was the chief of our former colony. By no means could a childless, unmarried king be regarded as a chief by the African Congolese society. Within this group of works there is also a portrait of Patrice Lumumba, who was the first prime minister of the independent Republic of the Congo. Two hundred days after his installation, he was executed.

Lumumba became the victim of an outward Cold War power struggle including the C.I.A., the Belgian government, and other power clans in his own country. After a brief flirtation with the Soviet Union, these clans decided to get rid of Lumumba. Nevertheless, Lumumba became a powerful symbol, if not the first pan-African thinker. The Lumumba commission is still ongoing. One of the items under investigation is to what extent the former king was involved in the killing of Patrice Lumumba. The challenge to bring this series to Venice is evident; it criticizes, or at least raises questions, regarding Belgium's colonial past. I was singled out at a very late stage to do the Belgian Pavilion, but the paintings already existed. They could not be more appropriate in any other context.