On Monumental Silences

Ibrahim Mahama


Sculpture, 210 x 60 x 80 cm.
Materials: rubber

Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp / Collection Flemish Community (Inv. no. BK008362).

A statue of Constant De Deken has been the subject of controversy for years now. De Deken was a missionary who travelled to China and Congo. In 1904, a statue – where De Deken towers over a kneeling black man – was set up in Wilrijk to commemorate him.

Ibrahim Mahama uses On Monumental Silences to criticise the statue of Constant De Deken. On Monumental Silences is a black rubber cast of Jean-Marie Hérain’s monument to Constant De Deken, erected in 1904. This recent M HKA collection acquisition is the final outcome of the interactive artistic reflection on the 1904 sculpture by Ibrahim Mahama (b. 1987, Tamale, Ghana, where he works as well), curated by Antonia Alampi for the Antwerp Extra City Kunsthal and in collaboration with Middelheim Museum.

In 2015, Wilrijk’s district council had already provided the original sculpture with a sign explaining its historical context, which was drawn up in collaboration with the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren. Belgians dominate the historiography of Congo. Congolese people have no say in the historical debate. As in the colonial period, the white gaze and voice predominates.

In response to the absence of the Congolese voice in the Flemish debate on Belgium’s colonial past, Antwerp artist Otobong Nkanga recently commented that shared dialogue on these sculptures and a rethinking of the titles and stories that go hand in hand with them is an opportunity to open up the conversation to a multitude of perspectives, instead of just a single story. The debate must be more inclusive.

In relation to this topic, Ibrahim Mahama himself says: ‘In my opinion, we have to focus on considering the new choices we could make under the present circumstances more carefully, rather than blaming things on specific historical circumstances. After all, we share the same history.[1]


[1] Wollaert, R. Ibrahim Mahama met ‘On Monumental Silences’ in Kunsthal Extra City in Antwerpen, in: (h)ART, https://www.hart-magazine.be/nl/ibrahim-mahama-met-on-monumental-silences-in-kunsthal-extra-city-in-antwerpen#.XMvrEI5LiUk, 22.02.2018

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