On the Frontier, the Lubumbashi Biennial Makes Art From Obstacles

The global mushrooming of fairs has reached Congo’s remote but resilient mining hub, where politics find its way into artists’ work.

LUBUMBASHI, Democratic Republic of Congo — This hot, dry metropolis may seem an unlikely art center. It is a thousand miles from the capital, Kinshasa, on the southern edge of an enormous, unwieldy country typically associated with wars and other crises.

Yet the Lubumbashi Biennial, founded in 2008, recently held its sixth edition in this city in the mineral-rich Katanga Province. It gathered work by 42 artists from Congo and beyond, including contemporary African stars like Ibrahim Mahama, Emeka Ogboh, and Kemang wa Lehulere, and a collaboration with Ruangrupa, the Indonesian collective that is curating Documenta 2022.

During the opening weekend, the poinciana trees were in bright orange flower around the National Museum, the biennial’s main site, which sits next to the provincial Parliament house. Built in the 1950s under Belgian colonial rule, both structures are gems of African Modernist architecture. A funeral had taken over the Parliament building’s plaza, with mourners assembled under white canopies.