In Conversation: The Artistic Odyssey of Moridja Kitenge Banza

On the heels of joining Claire Oliver Gallery, visual artist Moridja Kitenge Banza opens up about the pivotal moments and the evolving landscapes of his career.

In a conversation with Black Art and Design, Canadian-Congolese artist Moridja Kitenge Banza reflects on recent milestones in his career, including joining Claire Oliver Gallery in Harlem and participating in the McCanna House Artist-in-Residence Program. Banza perceives these platforms as pivotal in widening his reach and enriching his artistic exchange on an international level. Throughout our conversation, Banza delves into how his environment influences his creative process, his approach to intertwining history, memory, and identity through art, and his aim to challenge and redefine hegemonic narratives. Moridja’s message to young artists from the African diaspora emphasizes authenticity and the importance of a unique perspective in creating impactful and lasting art.

Christopher Okereke-Cox: Congratulations on joining Claire Oliver Gallery in Harlem and your acceptance into the prestigious McCanna House Artist-in-Residence Programme. How do you anticipate these new platforms will influence or expand your artistic practice?

Moridja Kitenge Banza: I am incredibly excited to be part of Claire Oliver Gallery in Harlem and, of course, to have been granted this residency. It gives me an opportunity to showcase my work beyond Canada’s borders and allows me to introduce myself to a broader and more diverse audience that includes artistic communities worldwide. This represents a pivotal step in the evolution of my artistic practice, providing me with increased visibility and the chance to engage in enriching dialogues with other creators and art critics.

Christopher: North Dakota Museum of Art has acquired several pieces from your exhibition with Claire Oliver, “Reimagining Icons: Counter-Narratives and Histories Enriched”. What does this recognition mean to you personally and professionally?

Moridja: It brings immense joy and marks a significant personal and professional milestone after years of dedication and hard work. This recognition is a symbol that my work is beginning to occupy a notable place in contemporary art history in the United States. As an African artist whose works are integrated into the permanent collections of American museums, this is especially important. It’s a crucial step in recognizing and valorizing my cultural heritage and my contribution to contemporary art.

Christopher: The McCanna House Artist-in-Residence Program offers a unique setting, surrounded by North Dakota farmland in the Red River Valley. How do you envision this environment impacting your creative process and the themes you explore in your work?

Moridja: My work is deeply rooted in exploring the history, memory, and identity of places concerning my own story and the spaces I have lived in, including Congo, my country of origin. The residency at McCanna House, immersed in the tranquil and rural landscape of the Red River Valley, will provide a unique opportunity for me to deepen my reflection on how places inhabit us and mark our identity over time. I am convinced that this inspiring environment will nourish my artistic research, leading me to explore new themes related to space, land, and their influence on identity construction.

Christopher: Your work in “Reimagining Icons” has been noted for its ability to question history, memory, and identity through a blend of fact and fiction.

Moridja: In the exhibition, I present my “Christ Pantocrator” series, a set of paintings questioning my relationship with African art objects present in Western museums, notably masks. This series reflects a deep interrogation of my personal history, marked by cultural hybridity and colonialism. Using Byzantine icons as a backdrop, to which I add African masks, I aim to restore dignity and original function to these masks while exploring the intersections between my Congolese culture and colonial heritage. This approach is representative of my overall methodology and aims to intertwine multiple layers of history and meaning, thus questioning our understanding of identity and memory.

Christopher: How do you hope viewers will engage with and interpret your work in the exhibition? Is there a particular impact or understanding you aim to evoke?

Moridja: Artistic interpretation varies with each viewer, but my desire is for my work to inspire a profound reflection on the importance of culture and history in constructing both collective and individual identity. I hope to raise awareness of the devastating effects of colonization and slavery on these identity processes, inviting a critical reevaluation of our shared past and a better understanding of its current implications.

Christopher: The concept of disrupting hegemonic narratives to create spaces for marginal discourse is central to your work. How do you see this mission evolving in the current global context, and are there particular narratives you’re eager to explore or challenge next?

Moridja: As an artist and citizen, I aim to question and dismantle the dominant narratives shaping perceptions of Black people worldwide, often established for economic interests and to maintain imbalanced power structures. My work strives to eliminate these reductive stereotypes by presenting alternative narratives celebrating Black identities’ richness and complexity. In the current global awareness and claims for more equity, I am particularly motivated to explore and challenge narratives around migration, diaspora, and cultural resilience.

Christopher: Finally, as your work continues to gain recognition and provoke dialogue, what message do you hope to impart to young artists, particularly those from the African diaspora, who are navigating the complexities of identity and representation in their own practices?

Moridja: My message to young artists is to remain true to themselves and their unique vision, despite the pressures and fleeting trends of the art market. Authenticity is a difficult but essential journey as it not only shapes your artistic identity but also ensures that your work resonates with truth and depth.