Jean Katambayi Mukendi was born in 1974 in Lubumbashi, the ‘Capital of copper’, in the South-East of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he lives and works. Self-taught artist and scientist, he has a passion for logic, mechanics, geometry and above all electricity. Born to an electrician father and a mother working for a company in the metal extraction business, he was early on surrounded by all sorts of metals at home, which became an essential substance to his artistic work. Bricolage and the art of paper cutting were part of everyday life and Jean also soon discovered a passion for numbers. Already as a child, he starting sculpting cardboard machines, spending days and nights building them. He studied at a technical school like his four sisters and brothers, graduated from there as an electrician and later on pursued studies in mathematics. However he remained ‘puzzled by creation’ until his encounter with the art world a few years later.
His art practice synthesizes the influences of his direct environment, the knowledge acquired during his studies and the everyday difficulties of contemporary African societies. Jean says that ‘through electricity, he can show the functioning of any organism: how the energy is pumped, the reception, through a circuit’. Cardboard, thread to his childhood, remains the main raw material onto which he applies different metals (copper, aluminum, steel). From there he elaborates sophisticated electrical mechanisms, embedded into fragile, beautiful and complex conceptual installations, involving hours and hours of work. Jean explains that ‘all the things in Congo are done in a very quick, careless way and often the end result is ugly’. So in addition to asking radical questions about society and calling for change, he is also hoping to make people understand the importance of such a basic thing as beauty created by proper craftsmanship.
Jean Katambayi Mukendi was awarded the ‘Prix de la Découverte’ of the Dak’art 2010 Biennale by Fondation Blachère. Jean’s works have been shown in Congo since the 90′, and more recently in Switzerland, in Senegal and in France. His works include “Analyseur Moteur Générateur”, “Radio Julia”, “Simultium”, “Simulen”, “Sélecteur”, “Ponteur” and “Ecoson”.