Omar in May
28 March – 28 May 2018
27 March: Opening, 18h (RSVP)
11 May: book presentation with panel discussion
Brussels-based artist Vincent Meessen (Baltimore, United States, 1971) has been developing work at the crossroads of visual art and research for fifteen years now. By reinvigorating long-forgotten signs, images and accounts, his works offer a poetic and polemic turn to History the way it is written. Using various media, ranging from the moving image to print, sound and archival documents, Meessen puts history to the test of the present.
At the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, Meessen represented Belgium with Personne and the Others. With twelve guest artists from four continents, the exhibition critically harnessed just as many narratives, encounters, and forms that opposed the rigid matrices of colonial modernity – physically or mentally, in imagination, in revolution, or in reciprocity.
Omar in May bears a direct relationship with the critically acclaimed Belgian Pavilion. Indeed, it boasts a film version of One.Two.Three, the audiovisual work presented in Venice and recently acquired by the French National Center of Plastic Arts (CNAP). It focuses on the role of Congolese students in the adventure of the Situationist International during the mid-sixties, both in Paris and in Brussels. In May 1968, one of them composed a protest song in Kikongo, one of the Congolese languages. Found in the archives of the Belgian situationist Raoul Vaneigem, this previously unknown composition revisited, through Meessen, its author, Joseph Mbelolo Ya Mpiku in Kinshasa. Set to music by young local women in the legendary rumba club Un Deux Trois, the composition renewed the possible signification of social struggle while a popular uprising was violently repressed at the time of filming.
Resurfacing buried memories, other works in the exhibition problematize the reification of May 1968. Rather than a reiteration of a mythology confined to the Latin Quarter of Paris, other major uprisings that took place in Dakar and Kinshasa are at play here. In both cases, Vincent Meessen is interested in the unique itineraries of young African intellectuals who directly or indirectly crossed the Situationist International – that “specter that haunts the world” which left a mark equally radical as indelible on the world of ideas and forms.
A photograph of a young Senegalese student reading the latest issue of the Situationist magazine accompanies the visitor to Dakar. One of the works especially conceived for this exhibition is Juste une Mouvement, the first stage of a ‘film in process of making itself’. The formula is Jean-Luc Godard’s, and unpacks La Chinoise. In this 1967 film the same young student, Omar Blondin Diop, played his own role of Maoist revolutionary. Meessen takes Godard’s fiction to witness and asks whether this scenario didn’t become reality in Dakar, in 1971. That year, members of the group of the ‘Incendiaires’, were sentenced for an attempt to attack the presidential convoy of the Senegalese President Senghor and his childhood friend, the French president Georges Pompidou.
Curated by: Catherine David, Musée national d'art moderne - Centre de création industrielle
On the occasion of the exhibition, Vincent Meessen has edited the publication The Other Country, in collaboration with WIELS, contemporary art centre (Brussels), MNAM Centre Pompidou (Paris) and Sternberg Press (Berlin). This work contains essays by Ruth Baumeister, Stefano Collicelli Cagol and Pedro Monaville, a dialogue between Tom McDonough and Vincent Meessen, and a visual essay by Vincent Meessen. With support by Jubilee – platform for artistic research, and a/r (art & recherche, Brussels).
May 11, 2018 – Omar in Memoriam
Round table discussion with Catherine David (deputy director of Centre Pompidou and curator of Omar in May), Dialo Blondin Diop, and Vincent Meessen.
On 11 May 1973, the lifeless body of the young Omar Blondin Diop, former 1968 activist, was found in his cell at Gorée prison in Dakar. On the anniversary of his passing and in the context of Omar in May, Vincent Meessen’s exhibition at Centre Pompidou, the artist and the commissioner speak with Dialo Diop. He is one of the brothers of Omar Blondin Diop, a political activist, and former secretary general of the National Democratic Rally (RND), the party founded by Senegalese thinker Cheikh Anta Diop, equally a historical opponent of Senghor. In his youth, Dialo Diop was one of the members of the group of so-called ‘Incendiaires’. He was sentenced to life for their violent opposition to the visit of Georges Pompidou in 1971, historical event from which Omar Blondin Diop’s death cannot be seen in isolation.
How can subjective memories be formalized in the writing of a political history that was always hindered by those in power? How to escape a reification of collective memory, and extract from an incomplete mourning process prospects for emancipation today?
28 March - 28 May 2018
4th floor - Galerie 0 - Exhibition Space - Centre Pompidou, Paris