Facing the Other: incarNations at Bozar

I enter the exhibition ‘incarNations: African Art as Philosophy’ at Bozar in Brussels full of energy, ready to devour mentally whatever I stumble upon. Masks, paintings, photographs, all welcome and embrace me warmly from the four corners of the spacious room. The walls and parts of the floor are covered in red, which in fact gives the impression of a pink hue. I cannot quite make out what the decorative image intends to convey. The rectangles, lines, square brackets transport me to the insides of a computer.

Some would feel exalted at this sight. I feel confused, though curious enough to let myself challenged. Not for long. I try to look past it and focus on the nkisi sculptures from Congo in front of me. Hundreds of nails are hammered into the male figure, each one a prayer, a hope, a vow meant to defeat evil. The song playing in the background is comforting. I stop for a second to listen more carefully. My heartbeats in unison with the lively sounds.


Apart from the security guard who pops out unexpectedly next to me every ten minutes, I notice that I am alone at the exhibition. An aura of tranquility invades my world and in the same time heightens the presence of the other. It does help to see the world from another aesthetic view. To put on the other’s mask and explore your surroundings, engage in conversations, listen to the other.

Forget yourself for a while and remember the other.


Emmanuel Levinas, a French-Lithuanian philosopher, would say that when we encounter the other “face to face”, that is, when we experience the “living presence” of the other, we become responsible for the other, for the other’s existence. The Lumbu and Punu oval masks, decorated with white kaolin clay and almond-shaped eyes, invite us into an ‘Afrocentric’ world, expressive and reflective. Seemingly trivial objects in the Western world, such as a comb, take on a new significance to the Akye people in southeastern Côte d’Ivoire, who endow it with supernatural power. A world full of symbolism. The world of the other. Facing our own.

Sindika Dokolo, the Congolese collector, and the South African artist Kendell Geers have put together a fascinating exhibition that explores the beauty, essence and diversity of Africas’s art through themes like magic, power and desire.