Come and see on this solemn day
On this third day of the month June 2022
How thoughts of elsewhere
Are embodied in local materials
How the lukàsà of the Balubà of the DRC
Made of beads and pieces of metal
Becomes a proud monument in a new environment
Carrier of global values
Come and admire in the Belgian public space
This remarkable unifying figure
A work about encounters about memories
Carriers of ideas on emancipation and brotherhood
Important to the Congolese diaspora of Antwerp
As well as to all inhabitants of Antwerp
– Fragment taken from The Long Hand by Jean Kabuta, written upon the invitation of Sammy Baloji and performed during the inauguration of Baloji’s public sculpture The Long Hand on 3 June 2022 in Antwerp
Visual artist Sammy Baloji (b. 1978, DCR, lives and works in Brussels) was commissioned a new permanent public work by the Antwerp Public Art Collection. This commission marks the first permanent work in public space by Baloji and the first work of an artist of Congolese descent in Antwerp’s public art collection.
Titled The Long Hand, his monumental sculpture now graces the Southern quay of the river Scheldt. The artist was immediately drawn to the river, acknowledging it as the gateway between ‘here’ and ‘there’, the city and the world, but also, more poignantly, between Belgium and Baloji’s native Congo.
“The Long Hand is a major addition to our city’s public art collection. Sammy Baloji contemplates the relation between Antwerp and the world, a relation that has certainly been troubled at times. Art in public space has the power to address both the past and present, and to add new stories to our communal narrative.” – Nabilla Ait Daoud, Alderman for Culture
The Long Hand holds many references that congeal into an artwork made of bronze, bricks and recycled plastic – three composite materials. Bronze, an alloy of tin and copper, the latter being one of the main mining and export products of the DRC. Bricks, crafted in Maaseik, Limburg, out of clay and soil from spoil tips, remnants of Belgium’s lost mining industry. Plastic waste collected from factories and then melted and cast into cut diamond shapes that adorn the bronze figure.
The form and title of the sculpture are derived from the Lukasa, a cultural device used in the Luba culture of Southern Congo. Lukasa (or “long hand” in Kiluba) are memory boards and a vital part of the oral tradition of historiography and storytelling of the Luba people. With The Long Hand, Sammy Baloji introduces this mnemonic device into public space, making it monumental, and as such aligning with the tradition of public art as commemorative signifiers.
Traditionally, Lukasa are made out of wood and ornately embellished with abstract carvings and inlayed with stones or shells. They are used in ceremonies where Luba history and mythology is orally transmitted by a so-called “man of memory” who holds the Lukasa in one hand, and traces the lines and encrusted jewels with the other, using them as nodes of information.
The coloured plastic diamonds are attached to the surface of the bronze sculpture in such a way that they outline the naval route between Antwerp and Muanda, the main port city of Congo. The brick platform that houses the statue is conceived of by the artist as a place to sit, convene, and exchange stories.
Another reference of note is a quotation by former Antwerp mayor Lode Craeybeckx (1897-1976), who said: “A citizen of Antwerp need only put their hand in the river Scheldt to be connected to the world.”
The Long Hand was made possible in part with the support of the Flemish government.
Antwerp Public Art Collection: Lucie Bausart (collection manager), Samuel Saelemakers (curator), Sara Weyns (director Middelheim Museum)
Coordination: Estelle Lecaille, Twenty Nine studio
Research & development: Ismaël Bennani & Orfée Grandhomme, Valentin Bollaert (Bureau Nord), Victor Mangindula, Maximiliaan Royakkers
Production: Art Casting, De Craecker, Bel Albatros, Helix, Wicko
Image on top:
Sammy Baloji, The Long Hand, 2022, collection Kunst in de Stad, Antwerp. Photography: Tom Cornille