Seminar by Johan Lagae : “Sorry Congo !?” On the positionality of architectural history in dealing with Congo’s colonial past

Tuesday, 9 October, 2018 - 12:30

WiSER invites you to a lunch time seminar by

Johan Lagae

“Sorry Congo !?” On the positionality of architectural history in dealing with Congo’s colonial past.


In 2016 the City of Ghent (Belgium) decided to install an “information board” next to a bust of King Leopold II, explaining and underlining his responsibility in the “red rubber regime” in the Congo Free State. The initiative triggered a debate among historians in the national media; Early October 2016, one discussant provocatively titled his contribution “Niks sorry, Congo!” (“No apologies, Congo!”). The debate testified to the fact that Belgium still has to come to terms with its colonial past, despite several, earlier initiatives to create public awareness on this particular part of the country’s history. The issue has been brought back on the agenda in recent months due to the imminent re-opening on December 8th 2018 of the Royal Museum of Central Africa, Tervuren, that lieu de mémoire of Belgium’s colonial project par excellence after what is being announced as a profound renovation and project of re-programming. I want to argue, in line with architectural history scholarship informed by insights of postcolonial studies, that architecture and urban form provide powerful tools to unpack the complexities and intricacies of colonial policies and practices, and allow to make a case against all too simplifying understandings of Congo’s colonial past which often still underscore the public debate. Drawing on my involvement as a co-curator and discussing my own positionality as an architectural historian in some Congo related exhibitions (The Memory of Congo, Tervuren, 2005; Congo belge in images, Antwerp, 2010), in urban heritage projects and in several collaborations with DR Congo based artists, I want to outline the opportunities as well as the pitfalls that architectural/spatial research on Congolese cities offers for the development of alternative narratives on Congo’s colonial past and ways of engaging with the legacy of (Belgium’s) colonialism in today’s DR Congo.



Monday, 8th October

WiSER Seminar Room,
6th Floor, Richard Ward Building,
East Campus, Wits University



Johan Lagae is Full Professor at Ghent University, where he teaches 20th Century Architectural History with a focus on the non-European context. He holds a PhD on colonial architecture in the former Belgian Congo and has published widely on the topic (full bibliography:, and (co-)curated several Congo-related exhibitions, such as Le mémoire du Congo. Le temps colonial (2005), Congo. Paysages urbains. Regards croisés (2007) Congo belge en images (2010), Congo Far West. Arts, Sciences & Collections (Tervuren, 2011 – Lubumbashi, 2013), and, most recently, A chacun sa maison. Housing in the Belgian Congo 1945-1960 (Brussels, 2018). He has also collaborated with several artists from DR Congo, in particular with photographer Sammy Baloji and curator/writer Patrick Mudekereza, both of which are based in Lubumbashi. From 2010 till 2014 he co-chaired a European research group devoted to the theme “European Architecture beyond Europe” (COST-action IS0904). He is co-founder and editorial member of ABE-Journal ( ). Currently he acts as external advisor for the multidisciplinary research project of the CCA, Montréal, entitled “Centring Africa: Postcolonial Perspectives on Architecture”.

All welcome.