There is no denying it: art and culture are social drivers in the community. Using art for community engagement exists as a means for reaching not only artists, but also the youth and marginalized communities. Through a cooperative agreement, Meridian and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) at the U.S. Department of State have selected four American artists to travel to Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to participate in a cultural exchange.
Kentucky-based artist and activist Christine Kuhn, the first muralist sent abroad, recently arrived in the DRC, where she will work with local artists to create murals that address women’s empowerment, gender-based violence, and the future of the Congo.
Terry Harvey, director of exhibitions at the Meridian Center for Cultural Diplomacy (MCCD), traveled to Kinshasa and Bukavu last month for an advance trip. He met with the Cultural Affairs team at the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa and in-country partners, Culture + and Bukavu Youth Action Center, to see potential mural sites and plan some of the final program logistics. I had a chance to sit down with Terry to discuss his trip.
“There is a core of wonderful people holding these communities together,” he said. While there, he met with Mr. Theo Mbayo, chief of cabinet at the Ministry of Culture, Arts, Sports & Youth; and Mr. Jean Baptiste Bo Elongo, deputy chief of cabinet at the Ministry of Gender.
This trip served as a great chance for Terry and the local team to galvanize the community and learn more about the issues inspiring the mural themes. “I think there is a lot of room in these communities to celebrate the female role in society,” Terry told me.
Acknowledging the multidimensionality of Congolese culture and infrastructure, Terry was glad he made this trip – his first ever to Africa. “It was important for me, as a person, to see the Congo firsthand,” he said.
The cultural experts, along with Terry, visited a number of prospective sites for the murals and ultimately decided on the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Kinshasa and Athénée d’lbanda and the Panzi Foundation in Bukavu. Under the leadership of Founder and Medical Director Dr. Denis Mukwege Mukengere, the Panzi Foundation and Hospital are known worldwide for the treatment of survivors of sexual violence.
There was no doubt between Terry and the rest of the team that one of the public artworks should be in a central location where women and children’s lives are healed and restored. “A lot of these murals we are painting will in fact address women’s empowerment,” said Terry.
Culture + and Bukavu Youth Action Center have selected local artists to assist Christine in painting the murals and for subsequent programming to ensure a continued relationship between the United States and the international artists.