"Beset Masculinity, Militarism, Modernism, and Imperialism in King Leopold’s Belgium, 1865-1909"


Dr. Debora Silverman’s presentation, part of the  UCLA History Department’s Historicizing Masculinities colloquium, titled “Beset Masculinity, Militarism, Modernism, and Imperialism in King Leopold’s Belgium, 1865-1909” was absolutely amazing.

From my notes on the talk:

“The problem, as Belgians say, in 1923 as in 1865, ‘The pygmies of Europe have accomplished the work of giants.’ […] [We’re] in this 23 year period of the sudden acquisition by the king of the Congo Free State for a gleeful nation. One of the main themes of my work is that our fascination (which is to be valued) of King Leopold, who was a brilliant, devious exploiter, has deflected attention from the deep entanglement of Belgian society and culture in the 1880s and 90s with King Leopold’s Congo. I’m tracing the ways it goes up and down and across the social and political system.”

Prof. Silverman received a 2015-16 fellowship from New York Public Library where she will complete her manuscript, “Art of Darkness: Art Nouveau, ‘Style Congo’ and the Belgian Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, 1897-2014.”

See her anticipatory scholarship on Belgian modernism in West 86th. The following is the abstract of Part I of her three part investigation entitled Art Nouveau, Art of Darkness: African Lineages of Belgian Modernism:

[This articles] identifies Belgian art nouveau as a specifically Congo style and as “imperial modernism,” created from Congo raw materials and inspired by Congo motifs—the lash, the vine, and the elephantine. Focusing closely on works by Victor Horta, Henry van de Velde, and Philippe Wolfers, Part I suggests how stylistic forms of modernism expressed a displaced encounter with a distant but encroaching imperial violence—the return of the repressor in visual form. [The next part,] which will appear in the next issue of West 86th, focuses on the history, visual culture, and ongoing renovation of the Royal Museum for Central Africa (originally opened in 1910), highlighting new research on expressive forms of violence, past and present, within Belgium and outside it.