King Leopold’s Soliloquy by Mark Twain
Throws down pamphlets which he has been reading. Excitedly combs his flowing spread of whiskers with his fingers; pounds the table with his fists; lets off brisk volleys of unsanctified language at brief intervals, repentantly drooping his head, between volleys, and kissing Louis XI crucifix hanging from his neck, accompanying the kisses with mumbled apologies; presently rises, flushed and perspiring, and walks the floor, gesticulating.
(King Leopold’s Soliloquy by Mark Twain, incipit)
The artist’s book by Elisabetta Benassi, King Leopold’s Soliloquy by Mark Twain, is a faithful reproduction of the original pamphlet edited by Mark Twain and published for the first time by The P. R. Warren Co. in Boston in 1905. The original book is a work of political satire about King Leopold’s rule over the Congo Free State – a monologue in which Leopold speaks in his own defense. The artist’s book, which also includes miscellaneous attachments collected by the artist, is part of the work M’FUMU, installation and performance, produced for Personne et les Autres: Vincent Meessen and guests, group exhibition curated by Katerina Gregos for the Belgian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale, 2015.
Taking the history of the Belgian Pavilion and the international context of the Biennale as its points of departure, the exhibition Personne et les Autres probes the unknown micro-histories and revisits a range of hybrid cultural and intellectual forms produced as a result of colonial encounters. The Belgian Pavilion itself was the first foreign Pavilion to be built in the Giardini in Venice, during the reign of King Leopold II.
In the context of the group exhibition, the reference for the work M’FUMU by Elisabetta Benassi is the figure of M’Fumu Paul Panda Farnana (1888-1930), Congolese intellectual and activist, whose thoughts and actions marked the relations between Belgium and the Congo in the period between the two world wars.