Congo Binga: Notes on Burri’s Grande Sacco
© Meredeth Turshen 3/9/2016
According to Emily Braun, curator of the Burri retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (October 9, 2015–January 6, 2016), this painting (a collage of burlap sacks) was created in 1961 to commemorate thirteen Italian airmen murdered in the chaos of Congolese power struggles that followed independence from Belgium. This account can be traced to a review of an exhibit of Alberto Burri’s work at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in 1963. The massacre occurred in mid-November 1961 in Kindu, a town in South Kivu, an eastern province of DR Congo that sits just above copper-rich Katanga. ONUC, the United Nations Operation in Congo, sent the Italians there to deliver supplies to a unit of Malaysian troops. Congolese soldiers loyal to Antoine Gizenga, who supported Patrice Lumumba (assassinated on January 17, 1961 in Lubumbashi), apparently mistook the Italians for parachutists fighting with Moïse Tshombe, leader of the Katanga secession.
The pieces of burlap are arranged in quadrants to create a central cross. The patch on the lower right is stamped Congo Binga, the name of a plantation town on a tributary of the Congo River in Equateur Province, some 850km northwest of Kindu where the murders occurred. How ironic that a sack from a Congo plantation, the sort of workplace where millions of Africans had died at the hands of Belgian colonists, should be used to memorialize thirteen Italian pilots!
For a longer version see http://roape.net/2016/03/16/congo-binga-notes-on-burris-grande-sacco/