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Night at the Africa Museum by Christophe Boltanski or the colonial nightmare

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Christophe Boltanski in 2018. (ULF ANDERSEN / AURIMAGES VIA AFP)

It is dark night. Christophe Boltanski, the author of the “Watcher”, is lying curled up on a camp bed, at the foot of an African elephant, 5 meters high, 7 meters long, and he reads, with the lamp from his phone, “Heart of Darkness,” by Conrad. King Kasaï is so old that he no longer has any age. The dry and cracked skin, it “cracks everywhere”. Naturalized with straw, wood pulp and wire, he watches over Boltanski’s insomnia.

Outside, it is not the savannah, but the royal park of Tervuren, a suburb of Brussels, where was built in 1905, on the model of the Petit-Palais, the Museum of the Belgian Congo, which later became the Royal Museum of Central Africa. , before being renamed Africa Museum. The megalomaniac King Leopold II had made it the showcase of his own conquest. He was indeed the sole owner of this African country, which he had bought in 1885, and from which he had snatched hundreds of “savages” in order to exhibit them at the Universal Exhibition in Brussels in 1897. He had had three “negro villages” surrounded by fences, where the deported families mimed everyday life to entertain the ladies in parasols and the gentlemen in boaters. Most of them died in the Belgian cold. It is on the place of this “human zoo” that the museum was built, where Christophe Boltanski, obeying the principle of the Editions Stock collection, chose to spend a night.

“The Belly of a Monster”

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The Congo, he knows. We owe him “Blood Ores. The slaves of the modern world” (2012), a terrible investigation into the ravages of postcolonialism. But what he says in “King Kasai” (18,50 euros)it is the Congo of Leopold II, it is “the belly of a monster”. During his nocturnal stroll through the underground galleries, he thus reviews an army of bronze and marble statues representing the medal-winning officers who committed so many atrocities and “subjugated millions of human beings”. And he enters an incredible stuffed jungle, where some 150,000 birds, 41,000 reptiles and 10,500 primates are frozen. How to sleep in such a cemetery? Christophe Bolantsky, “child of Tintin”, became a great reporter to look like the hero of Hergé, struggles today to reread “Tintin in the Congo”, but when he sets off in pursuit of Alphonse de Boekhat, the hunter who killed King Kasaï in 1956, one would believe to read an album from the master of the clear line. It’s captivating, and heartbreaking.

King Kasaï, by Christophe Boltanski, Stock, 160 p., 18.50 euros.

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Source : Nouvelobs

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