Blaise Mandefu Ayawo, Member of Congolese Collective Behind Venice Biennale’s Dutch Pavilion, Dies at 55

Blaise Mandefu Ayawo, a member of the acclaimed Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise artist collective, has died at 55. His death was announced on Thursday by KOW, the Berlin gallery that represents the collective.

CATPC, as the collective is known for short, just opened their Dutch Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in Italy. KOW said that Mandefu Ayawo died not long after the group’s exhibition opened.

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“Blaise and eight other members of CATPC traveled to Venice to install and officially open their exhibition in the Dutch pavilion at the Venice Biennale,” KOW wrote in its announcement. “It was a great moment for everyone. Then Blaise fell ill and passed away after almost two weeks in hospital at the Ospedale dell’Angelo, where he had been well cared for.”

Born in 1969, Mandefu Ayawo is one of 19 members in CATPC. The collective was founded in 2014 and frequently collaborates with artist Renzo Martens, a white artist from the Netherlands whose involvement with the group has generated allegations of exploitation. The group’s artists have sought to complicate those allegations, with one telling the New Yorker, “We are not his pupils.”

CATPC’s members are Congolese plantation workers. They use their art to highlight the circumstances of their labor, and have been praised for their chocolate sculptures, made using cacao sourced from plantations worldwide. The group’s work has been shown at venues ranging from New York’s SculptureCenter to the Bienal de São Paulo.

In Venice, CATPC is showing new works in that mode, as well as videos that parody Western art institutions. In one, the group’s members put White Cube, the Lusanga art space opened by Martens, on trial and ultimately judge the gallery guilty. Another component of the pavilion is also set at White Cube, where CATPC is showing a sculpture loaned by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts as a decolonial gesture.

Among Mandefu Ayawo’s contributions to the Dutch Pavilion was the sculpture Mvuyu Libérateur. KOW described it as “a bird that breaks open white cubes and allows the energy that has historically accumulated in them to flow back to the communities that financed Europe’s museums in the past through their enforced labor.”


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