Sparking Generational Change

Sparking Generational Change

Kriss Munsya is an image-based artist based in Canada. He was born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, and moved to Belgium as a child. Like many people who have experienced similar emigrations, he carries generational guilt and confusion. He asks: “How are we supposed to come together with our homeland? How can we embrace our roots and at the same time live in a system that is corrupting them?” Munsya’s work raises awareness about difficult topics in society, including racism, colonialism, white supremacy and patriarchy. His work creates a dissonance between what viewers see and what they really feel inside. In this interview, Munsya tells us about visiting Congo for the second time, the personal importance of this project as well as key insights into the story and symbolism behind this series.

A: Can you tell us about the meaning behind the title of this series, Genetic Bomb?
When you are part of a marginalised group, you tend to imagine a better outcome for your community. That’s actually what Afro-Futurism offers. But, instead of focusing on the future, GENETIC BOMB is trying to interrogate the very roots of any possible future. The premise of the story is that every time anyone has a positive impact on the world around them, it changes their nature on a genetic level. It means that the more we fight for change the more we create generations who will make our dreams of freedom a reality because it’s written in their DNA. Comparatively, your genetic composition stays the same when you defend the status quo. At some point, there will be a social confrontation between the two groups that will dictate the future of our species.

My previous work, THE ERASER, was talking about reinventing the future of a boy from the Congolese diaspora in Belgium. For GENETIC BOMB, I decided to travel to Congo, for the second time in my life, and stay there 5 months. It was a powerful way to make peace with myself, my dad and my culture.

A: Many of your subjects’ faces are covered in white powder, coloured paper, patterned fabric and silver dots. What do these symbolise?

KM: The story is divided in 4 segments:
The sequins (mirrors) on the face are part of the segment called Washed Out. Here, I talk about how colonialism affects people’s psyche and culture. Colonialism comes with a form of deep narcissism because it tends to teach colonised people to hate themselves, transforming them into the reflection of the coloniser and washing out their own culture. That is the reason why people with sequins have washed out clothes – these represent their culture.

Next is the section called String Theory, which represents the feeling I had seeing so many Congolese people blinded by Christianism – which is also a colonial tool. Their lives gravitate primarily around religion. The coloured paper represent the comfort in which people prefer to experience instead of facing reality. They live in the past that their brain naturally enhances and colours and they become blind, vulnerable to the challenges that they and their loved ones are facing.

Third is Toxic Patterns. I wanted to talk about the fact that women’s bodies and experience have also been colonised and exploited. I interviewed 15 women about their lives, hopes and dreams. All of them told how their voice wasn’t valued and how their experiences were just extensions of men’s ego. The patterned fabric I used is called Wax. Another colonial tool, the material is used mainly in Africa but actually produced in The Netherlands. It has nothing to do with African Art and was forced on people by colonisers.

Talkabout is the name of the final segment. When high schoolers graduate, they pour white Talc powder on their heads to celebrate. However, their celebration is followed by disenchantment because the unemployment rate is sky rocketing and no matter what they study, they have high chances to be unemployed… So what’s the point? The only field in which you can make money is politics. Corruption is one of the plague of the country. The white powder represents the moment when kids are still kids, when they don’t have serious talks about their future – the moment when their dreams are still reachable.

A: Could you tell us more about the outdoor spaces and sets you’ve chosen for this series?
I shot the project in 3 different cities: Kinshasa, Boma and Muanda. These places are significant to me and my family. Kinshasa is the place I was born and I moved to Brussels when I was 3 years old. Boma and Muanda are two cities that I grew up with through the photo albums of my parents. It felt natural to go to these two coastal cities, with their amazing landscapes, and finally be physically present. To choose the specific sets, I took 3 months just walking and traveling around. I never had a specific idea of what I wanted; it was mostly improvisation. That’s the beauty of this series. I took 3 to 4 months writing the ideas in Canada, 3 months writing and walking around in Congo but I still wanted to leave something to fate.

A: What impact do you want Genetic Bomb to have?
KM: I don’t really know if I want anything from that series. It was a therapeutic way to express myself and make peace with some old demons. But I do know that some people went through similar experiences. Not only in Africa, not only Black people. Healing, forgiving can be difficult experiences… I just hope the people who will be able to learn about my project will know that I see them and somehow I am there with them.

5. What does being shortlisted for the Aesthetica art prize mean to you? And, can you tell us about any projects you are currently creating?

Aesthetica is a publication that I have respected for a long time so it feels flattering to be selected. As artists, we are walking a thin line between expressing ourselves and being validated. I tend to not take those situations too seriously. The first validation I need is my own, but of course when other people like my work, it does feel good.

I am currently working on a photo based project about environmental justice called KILLING DA VINCI. I basically traveled the world to meet with marginalised groups who suffer from environmental injustices. I collaborate with them to co-create pieces that raise awareness about the lack of indigenous presence in leadership roles in the fight towards climate justice.

Munsya will feature in the Aesthetica Art Prize 2024 Exhibition at York Art Gallery from 16 February – 21 April. Meet over 250 longlisted international artists in our new online gallery.

Want to get involved? The next edition of the Prize is open for entries. Submit your work by 31 August. Win £10,000, exhibition and publication. Find out more here.

Image Credits:

  1. Kriss Munsya, Dysfunctional Intentions (2022). From the series Genetic Bomb. C-type print.
  2. Kriss Munsya, Fading Frontier (2022). From the series Genetic Bomb. C-type print.
  3. Kriss Munsya, Even (2022). From the series Genetic Bomb. C-type print.
  4. Kriss Munsya, Airplane Mode (2022). From the series Genetic Bomb. C-type print.