Pilevneli Gallery Showcases Definition of Colonialism by Belgian Artist

Belgian visual artist, theatre artist and author Jan Fabre’s exhibition “Purity on its Knees”, based on his “Tribute to the Belgian Congo” series, is on view at Istanbul’s Pilevneli Gallery.

Pilevneli Gallery is located in Dolapdere, in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district, in a gentrifying neighbourhood with art galleries and museums side by side with auto repair shops and gas stations. It is a five-floor space (basement, ground floor and three floors above) and the current highlighted exhibition there is by Belgian visual artist, theater artist and author Jan Fabre.

The exhibition, called “Purity on Its Knees”, features works from Jan Fabre’s –what the gallery calls– “significant” series “Tribute to Belgian Congo”. This is the first solo exhibition of the artist in Pilevneli Gallery in Istanbul. Turkish art lovers may remember him from his solo theatre/ dance production “Angel of Death”, in 2006 within the scope of the 15th Istanbul International Theater Festival, organised by Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV).

According to the information provided by the gallery by scanning a QR code, the organic and animal origin materials, namely skeletons of small animals, stuffed birds or wing cases of jewel beetles were all acquired after a natural death. The wing cases of the jewel beetles especially are used in vast quantities, lending an eerie iridescence to the large-scale artworks.

They “come from entomology departments of universities in Asia and Africa and are simultaneously found in garbages of restaurants there, because worldwide it is known that the scarab contains a lot of proteins and therefore is a delicacy in the culture of food.”

In the exhibition, there are also skeletons that are made from plastic and acquired through medical companies that sell them for educational purposes. All this to say, the gallery explains, “that no animals were killed and all materials are natural remains.”

Joanna de Vos, the independent curator who wrote the statement ends by saying “Jan Fabre uses ‘death’ material and brings it back into the cycle of life through the realms of art.” De Vos also calls Fabre “a servant of beauty [who] serves the fragility of our nature.”

According to press materials, “Tribute to Belgian Congo” “has been exhibited all around the world and acquired by important Dutch, French, Italian, Russian, Korean museums, [and] the artist focuses on unsettled issues with mosaics made of jewel beetle wing-cases.”

The Belgian Congo was a colony of Belgium until its independence in 1960. It is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a name it adopted in 1964. Fabre addresses the dark history of colonialism in his motherland, Belgium, via the use of natural materials of dead insects and birds.

Photographs cannot do justice to the artworks comprising millions of wing cases of jewel beetles, painstakingly arranged to create works critical of the history of European colonialism in Africa by Fabre – art lovers in the city are advised to experience the works themselves. The exhibition in Istanbul will be on view until February 20, 2021, weekdays from 10 am to 6 pm.

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