| The Courier N°129 Sept-Oct 1991 - Dossier: Immigration - Country reports : Fiji, Tonga |
|Culture and the arts|
Visitors acquainted with the explorer, Henry Morton Stanley, would almost certainly have found the exhibition devoted to him at the Royal central African Museum in Tervuren, Brussels (6 June - 29 September 1991) a most fascinating experience. Seeing, for the first time, so many of his personal effects and papers matched with historical facts was like being transported body and soul to that period (1871-1885) of colonial penetration of Africa and retracing the steps of the great explorer.
Among the numerous objects on display were his travelling bag, pipe, medicine box and syringe, elephant hunting gun, pistol, ink pot, photo album, samples of spices, manacles and other instruments of torture, several African works of art, spears, arrows, and most especially his journals, sketches, and manuscripts of some of his books. One gained not only a greater insight into the events but also a much deeper understanding of the man himself.
The exhibition covered four distinct periods of Stanley's career: the years 1871 - 1872 when he was commissioned by the proprietor of the New York Herald, Gordon Benneth, to find the missing explorer, Dr David Livingstone. This was not of course Stanley's first mission to Africa. He had been sent by the same newspaper, as its special correspondent, on Lord Napier's expedition to Abyssinia in 1867-68. But it was this assignment which brought him international fame following his meeting with Dr Livingstone at Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika in November 1871 when he uttered the immortal phrase: 'Dr Livingstone, I presume.'
Four months with Livingstone produced some remarkable documents for the exhibition. There was a hand-written note by the Doctor prescribing treatment against fever, a sketch of the insect (almost certainly a mosquito), which caused the illness as well as another note containing details on the different weight of the parts of a giraffe! A drawing showing Stanley's meeting at Ujiji with Dr Livingstone, which he certified 'correct as if the event had been photographed' was also prominently displayed in this section. This was the drawing which was published in an August 1872 issue of the Extra Supplement of the Illustrated London News.
The second period covered 1874 to 1877 when Stanley journeyed through Central Africa under the auspices of the London Daily Telegraph and the New York Herald. This was when he learned, on arrival in Zanzibar, of the death of Livingstone, and had to turn northwest to explore, for the first time, Victoria Nyanza, proving it was the second largest fresh-water lake in the world instead of a series of unconnected lagoons, and to discover the Shimeeyu River.
The third period, 1878 to 1885, concerned Stanley's mission to develop the Congo Free State on behalf of the Belgian King, Leopold II. Stanley had earlier traced the Congo River from its source to its mouth. Of particular interest in this section of the exhibition were some of the King's voluminous correspondence with the explorer as well as photographs and correspondence with Savagnag de Brazza which showed the excellent relationship that existed between the two men. A map drawn up by the explorer shows his progress along the Great River establishing stations, roads into the interior and a network of steamers. There were drawings of some of the battles his men fought with the natives and ceremonies of truce or surrender.
The last part of the exhibition covered 1886 until Stanley's death in 1904. There was a sketch of his wedding, a picture of his wife, another of him at his desk at home and a couple on his political career, especially during his campaign for election to Parliament. Stanley indeed sat in Parliament for North Lambeth from 1895 to 1900.
No doubt, one of the great contributions of this exhibition was to bring visitors into 'close contact' not only with Dr Livingstone himself but also with some of the major players in the colonial history of Africa. Evidence of the initial reasons for European forays into the Dark Continent was present everywhere: pictures of huge hoards of ivory, sketches on the slave trade and samples of spices.
The exhibition brought home clearly, Dr Livingstone's concern about slavery and its inhuman nature. A sketch by him depicts the horrific punishment meted to those Africans who resisted slavery. They were hung on the trees. His sketch shows skeletons with nooses around the neck. This, it was explained, was Dr Livingstone's contribution to the campaign for abolition.
The exhibition, furthermore, enabled one to understand, as one had never before understood, Stanley, the man. He had a sense of history in the making, not only because of his despatches to the newspapers which sponsored his expeditions but also because of the voluminous daily notes he made on his experiences - notes that were to be of immense use in compiling the various books he published.
One has a better idea of the composition of his 192-member Caravan which he assembled at Zanzibar before setting out in search of Dr Livingstone, the conditions under which they travelled, and his relationship with his team. Stanley drove a hard bargain with them. An expensive expedition which was said to have cost £4000, he had an agreement written (which he signed with each and every member of the Caravan) giving him a virtual blank cheque to deal, as he saw fit, with indiscipline and rebellion. The original copy of the agreement as well as the payroll were on display. Judging from the number of manacles on show, Stanley must have applied a great deal of discipline, and there was no doubt of the tremendous amount of suffering endured by members of the Caravan, some of whom, like the headman, had his family with them. Exhaustion, disease and death stalked the team and a large number died on the way. Stanley drew a sketch which shows that those who died on the way were simply left to the vultures.
If Stanley was a great journalist and explorer, his attempt at anthropology left a lot to be desired. He concluded, for example, from his contact with the Pygmies that the latter must be subhuman in support of the Darwinian theory of the origin of species.
Admirers of Joseph Conrad, visiting the exhibition, could not have avoided being enchanted by the presence of so many of the authentic materials which inspired his writing. Indeed Conrad was not absent from the exhibition, for there was a quotation from his 'Heart of Darkness' in the section devoted to Stanley's Belgian Congo enterprise relating the stampede of the attacking natives at the hooting of the steamer.
The Borschette Centre in Brussels sees more than its fair share of the 'great and the good'. As one of the principal venues in the Belgian capital for meetings involving Community officials, Member State representatives, business people, trade unionists, NGOs and overseas delegations, it regularly plays host to 'opinion leaders' from both Europe and elsewhere. The building is also designed so that on each floor, the meeting rooms are reached through a spacious common area.
The latter fact makes the Borschette Centre a good location for visual displays. The former makes it particularly suitable if the display is designed to convey a message about the state of the world. That is why it was the ideal choice for an exhibition of works by young artists from the European Schools , on the, theme of 'development and hunger in the world'.
The event was staged by the Europe - Third World Association. This is an organisation whose membership of more than 1000 European officials make regular contributions from their salaries to the cause of third world development. The objectives of the Association are to finance microprojects in the field, to increase awareness of North-South problems among Community officials and to contribute to the discussion on the economic, social and political problems confronting the Third World.
The guests at the opening of the exhibition, which was held under the patronage of Her Majesty, Queen Fabiola of Belgium, were welcomed by Mr Troberg, the President of the Europe - Third World Association. He spoke briefly about the work of his organisation before introducing Mr Leo Tindemans, the former Belgian Prime Minister and current co-Chairman of the ACP-EEC Joint Assembly who was to perform the formal opening. In his speech, Mr Tindemans paid tribute to the artistic talents of the young people who had contributed to the exhibition. He also commended the work of the Europe-Third World Association in organising the display. Mr Tindemans went on to explain the role and operation of the ACP-EEC Joint Assembly - a body which he described es 'unique in the world' in bringing together, on an equal footing, representatives of ACP and EC states to seek the best way forward for development.
The work of the European Schools' pupils remained on display in the Borschette Centre for the following three weeks and during this time, they can hardly have failed to attract the attention (and admiration) of the Centre's many visitors. The Association is currently working on plans to display some of the works in other European towns where the Community has a major presence.
Visitors to the exhibition in the Borschette Centre in Brussels were impressed by the artistic quality of the works on display. Perhaps even more impressive, however, was the power of some of the messages which the young artists were seeking to convey. As can be seen from the photographs on this page, the theme of children cropped up frequently. As the 'poster' in Italian so eloquently states 'protecting the children concerns us all'. Other subjects which featured prominently among the paintings and other exhibits were human rights and the environment.
The great disparities of wealth between the richest and poorest countries of the world were represented in a variety of ways and, as Mr Tindemans acknowledged in his presentation, the images were not always comfortable ones. One specific issue which clearly struck a chord with many of the artists, was pollution. The enormous amount of waste generated by affluent, consumer-oriented countries, often at the expense of developing states gave rise to some of the most striking and indignant images at the exhibition.