Renzo Martens

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Renzo Martens at KW Berlin.

Renzo Martens (born 1973 in Terneuzen) is a Dutch artist who currently lives and works in Amsterdam and Kinshasa. Martens became known for his provocations, including Episode III: Enjoy Poverty (2008), a documentary that suggests that the Congo market their poverty as a natural resource.[1] In 2010 Renzo Martens initiated the Institute for Human Activities (IHA) that postulates a gentrification program on a palm oil plantation in the Congolese rainforest.


Renzo Martens (1973, Terneuzen) studied Political Science at the University of Nijmegen and art at the Royal Academy of Ghent and the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. In 2010 Martens got approved as an artist-in-residence at the ISCP program in New York.[2] In 2013 the artist attended the Yale World Fellow Program, the leadership program of Yale University.[3]

Martens is currently working on a PhD in the arts at the School of Arts in Ghent.[4] Martens gave lectures on art, economy and representation at: University College London, London School of Economics, Yale University, Goldsmiths (University of London), Städelschule Frankfurt, HEAD Genève, KASK and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid.


Episode I[edit]

In Chechnya's war zones Renzo Martens is in search of himself . With the camera self-centered, he questions the Chechens on what they think of him. Episode I is an atypical documentary in which footage of a war zone is mixed with a personal (love) story of the artist .

Episode III: Enjoy Poverty[edit]

This film opened the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) in 2009. Episode III: Enjoy Poverty articulates a comment on political claims of contemporary art by referring to its own strategy. The film was shown in art events and venues such as the Centre Pompidou, The Berlin Biennial, Manifesta 7, The Moscow Biennial, Tate Modern, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, 19th Biennale of Sydney and several prestigious film festivals. Azu Nwagbogu (curator Zeitz MOCAA) called the film "The Guernica of our age."[5]

Institute for Human Activities[edit]

Martens initiated The Institute for Human Activities (IHA) in 2010 and is commissioned as the artistic director of the institute. IHA's goal is to prove that artistic critique on economic inequality can redress it – not symbolically, but in material terms.[6] The IHA attempt to improve the lives of people around the art center by effectuating a gentrification program. Since 2014, it works in close collaboration with the Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (CATPC), a cooperative of plantation workers that develops new ecological initiatives based on the production of art.

Opening Seminar[edit]

In 2012 IHA organised an Opening Seminar on a palm oil plantation in Boteka, DR Congo. Congolese and international speakers gathered at the plantation to discuss the history of the plantation, gentrification, and the possibilities for art to deal meaningfully with the conditions of its own existence. For two days, two-hundred people from the local community participated in a conference with art historian TJ Demos, philosopher Marcus Steinweg, activist René Ngongo, architect Eyal Weizman, economist Jérome Mumbanza, curator Nina Möntmann, anthropologist Katrien Pype, and artist Emmanuel Botalatala. Urban theorist Richard Florida delivered the keynote lecture via satellite.[7]


IHA has facilitated the global dissemination of works of CATPC in the art world, which resulted in exhibitions in places such as the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, Artes Mundi in Cardiff, and Kunst-Werke in Berlin. In January 2017, the cooperative opened its US debut at the SculptureCenter in New York. After earlier reviews in Artforum and The New York Times by amongst others Claire Bishop, Princeton professor Chika Okeke-Agulula heated the debate by questioning if this was "The latest frontier in the Western art world’s self-congratulatory and all-too-sporadic missionary work?"[8][9][10] The final verdict was made by The New York Times, compiling the show as 'The Best Art of 2017'[11]

The Matter of Critique[edit]

The IHA started the international conference series titled The Matter of Critique to address the material conditions of critical artistic engagement. Through these conferences, the IHA brings together academics, artists, and economists, as well as the Congolese plantations workers to discuss the artistic, social, and economic scope of the IHA's activities in Congo. The IHA initiated its first international conference in 2015 in KW Institute for Contemporary Art[12] and in Lusanga.[13] The third edition of The Matter of Critique took place in 2016—again in Lusanga.[14] The fourth edition took place in SculptureCenter, New York on January 29, 2017,[15] with notably Ariella Azoulay, Simon Gikandi, David Joselit, Michael Taussig and CATPC artist Matthieu Kasiama.

The Repatriation of the White Cube[edit]

On April 21, 2017, IHA and CATPC opened a White Cube[16] on the site of Unilever's first ever palm oil plantation, in Lusanga (formerly Leverville) in the Conglese interior. Designed by OMA, this White Cube is the cornerstone of the Lusanga International Research Centre for Art and Economic Inequality (LIRCAEI).[17] During the opening, plantation workers held discussions on the benefits of a White Cube for a plantation with philosopher Suhail Malik, curator Clémentine Deliss, curator Azu Nwagbogu, the president of CATPC René Ngongo, and the Indonesian plantation workers union Serbundo.

In a discussion broadcast by ZDF with the artists Monica Bonvicini, Hans Haacke, and Renzo Martens, curator at large of dokumenta 14 Bonaventure Ndikung commented on this project that "Afrika does not need a White Cube".[18]

Inaugural exhibition "The Repatriation of the White Cube"[edit]

CATPC has curated the inaugural exhibition of the White Cube in a network of Kisendus – traditional huts, especially built for the show, dedicated to arts and social events – linked to the White Cube. Different pieces referred to the D.R. Congo's rich history but had until then never been exhibited in the Congo. Participating artists included: Kader Attia, Sammy Baloji, Vitshois Mwilambwe Bondo, Marlene Dumas, Michel Ekeba, Eléonore Hellio, Carsten Höller, Irène Kanga, Matthieu Kasiama, Jean Katambayi, Jean Kawata, Mbuku Kimpala, Thomas Leba, Jérémie Mabiala, Daniel Manenga, Mega Mingiedi, Eméry Mohamba, Cédrick Tamasala, Pathy Thsindele and Luc Tuymans.[19]


The opening of the museum marked the end of its first research programme on gentrification, to start a new research programme on the creation of the "post-plantation". Together with Commonland, it currently aims to create a new ecological and economic model based on art.





  • Brian Boucher, How Artist Renzo Martens Aims to Funnel Western Capital Back to the Plantation Chocolate sculptures have changed workers' lives, artnet


  • TJ Demos, Gentrification After Institutional Critique: On Renzo Martens’ Institute for Human Activities, Afterall Journal
  • J.J. Charlesworth, How the Dutch provocateur launched an independent cultural economy with plantation workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ArtReview


  • Stuart Jeffries, I Want to Gentrify the Jungle, The Guardian


  • T.J. Demos, Return to the Postcolony: Specters of Colonialism in Contemporary Art, Sternberg Press, Berlin
  • On the Institute for Human Activities – Renzo Martens in Conversation with T.J. Demos In: Scandalous: A Reader on Art and Ethics, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2013, Nina Möntmann (ed.).
  • Hilde Van Gelder, T.J. Demos, In and Out of Brussels. Figuring Postcolonial Africa and Europe in the Films of Herman Asselberghs, Sven Augustijnen, Renzo Martens, and Els Opsomer, Leuven University Press | Lieven Gevaert Series, Leuven


  • Kolja Reichert, Klotzt nicht so politisch!, Die Welt
  • Artur Zmijewski, Artists come to bring Kindness, A conversation with renzo martens, in: Forget Fear Berlin Biennial Reader, Berlin
  • TJ Demos, Toward a New Institutional Critique: A Conversation with Renzo Martens, in: Atlántica 52


  • Özge Ersoy, "Episode III: Enjoy Poverty", Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, September 2011 issue, Chicago
  • Renzo Martens and Eyal Weizman, "Aesthetic Autocritique, a conversation between Renzo Martens and Eyal Weizman", A Prior #22, Gent
  • TJ Demos, Poverty Pornography, Humanitarianism, and Neo-liberal Globalization: Notes on Some Paradoxes in Contemporary Art, SMBA newsletter, Amsterdam, April 2011
  • Dieter Roelstrate, On Leaving the Building: Thoughts of the Outside, e-flux Journal 24, New York City
  • Marren Lubke, A Conversation with Renzo Martens, Camera Austria, Graz.
  • Jacob Wren, Une Polemique pour l Art et le Monde, Inter Art Actuel nr. 107, Montreal
  • Oscar Benassini, Detras de las Imagene's, La Tempesta nr 76, Mexico DF
  • Maria Eriksson Baaz, Erik Pauser, Mats Rosengren & Elin Wikström about Episode III, Ord Bild, nr 1732, Goteborg


  • N.N., Renzo Martens, Krytyka Polityczna,nr 24 - 25, Warshaw, 2010
  • Pieter van Bogaert, Ongemakkelijk langs de binnenkant, over Renzo Martens' Episode III, Enjoy Poverty, in: 'Kunstkritiek', Laurens Dhaenens and Hilde van Gelder, Lannoo Campus, Tielt
  • Ruben De Roo, Immorality as Ethics: Renzo Martens’ Enjoy Poverty, in: 'Art & Activism in the Age of Globalization / Reflect #08,' NAi Publishers, Rotterdam
  • Ana Teixeira Pinto, Reality Bites, Vonhundert, December 2010
  • John Douglas Millar, Watching versus Looking, Art Monthly, October 2010
  • Ana Teixeira Pinto, Renzo Martens: Love is Colder than Death, Mousse 25, September 2010
  • Niels van Tomme, Enjoy Poverty: Disclosing the Political Impasse of Contemporary Art, Art Papers, September 2010
  • Kersin Winking, Monumentalism (catalogue), Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam 2010
  • Kathrin Rhomberg, 6th Berlin Biennial (catalogue) KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin
  • Adam Budak, The Human Condition (catalogue) Kunsthaus Graz, Graz, Austria
  • Tina Dicarlo & Khadija Carroll, The Action of Seeing, Kaleidoscope, no. 8, 2010
  • Raymond van den Boogaard, Langzame zegetocht van Enjoy Poverty, NRC, July 2010



  • Coen van Zwol ‘Armoede levert meer op dan goud’, NRC Handelsblad, Rotterdam Nov 2008
  • Jorinde Seijdel, ‘NJOY POV RTY’, SMBA Newsletter, Amsterdam Nov 2008
  • Frank Vande Veire, ‘Une bonne nouvelle’, Notes on Episode III, SMBA, Amsterdam Nov 2008
  • Jelle Bouwhuis, ‘Renzo Martens – Episode III’, SMBA, Amsterdam Nov 2008
  • Bert Mebius, 'Medelijden helpt niet', De groene Amsterdammer, Amsterdam Nov 2008
  • Domeniek Ruyters ‘Renzo of Guy; Het ware gezicht van Afrika’ Metropolis M, Utrecht, 2008 nr. 3
  • Mathilde Jansen, ‘Afro-pessimisme minder aanwezig dan gedacht’, NRC, Aug 2008
  • Els Roelandt, ‘Renzo Martens, Analysis of a film in three conversations’, A Prior, Ghent, Feb 2008


  • Nadim Samman, ‘The bomb drops’, Frieze, The Art Newspaper, Oct 2006
  • Max Andrews, ‘A picture of war is not war’, Frieze Magazine, May 2006
  • Jeroen Laureijns, ‘Renzo Martens’, in ‘Looking, encountering, staging’, Piet Zwart Instituut, Rotterdam en Revolver, Frankfurt, 2005


  • Renzo Martens, presentation of his work for On Documenting (truth and politics) at BAK, basis voor actuele kunst in Utrecht, 12 November 2005


  • Xander Karskens, ‘Renzo Martens’, Flash Art, Milan


  1. ^ Boucher, Brian (November 1, 2016). "Congolese Sculptors Redirect Capital to the Plantation". Artnet News. Retrieved March 25, 2018.
  2. ^ ISCP Archived 2014-02-23 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Yale World Fellow Program
  4. ^ KASK Archived 2014-02-22 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Balie, De (2016-11-19), Renzo Martens - Beeldbepalers - De Balie x IDFA Special, retrieved 2017-12-13
  6. ^ IHA
  7. ^ "Interview Richard Florida at Opening Seminar". Vimeo. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  8. ^ Balie, De (2016-11-19), Renzo Martens - Beeldbepalers - De Balie x IDFA Special, retrieved 2017-12-13
  9. ^ Kennedy, Randy (2017-02-02). "Chocolate Sculpture, With a Bitter Taste of Colonialism". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-12-13.
  10. ^ Bishop, Claire. "Claire Bishop on Cercle d'Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise". Retrieved 2017-12-13.
  11. ^ Smith, Roberta; Cotter, Holland; Farago, Jason (2017-12-06). "The Best Art of 2017". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-12-13.
  12. ^ "Renzo Martens. The Matter of Critique – KW Institute for Contemporary Art". KW Institute for Contemporary Art. 2015-05-02. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  13. ^ "MoC II - Institute for Human Activities". Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  14. ^ "MoC III - Institute for Human Activities". Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  15. ^ SculptureCenter. "SculptureCenter Event - SC Conversations: Matter of Critique Part IV". Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  16. ^ Hegert, Natalie (2017-05-11). "How an OMA-Designed Art Museum Just Opened in a Remote Town in the DRC". Artsy. Retrieved 2017-11-03.
  17. ^ "The White Cube". (in Dutch). Retrieved 2017-11-03.
  18. ^ ""Das braucht der afrikanische Kontinent nicht!"". (in German). Retrieved 2017-12-13.
  19. ^ "The White Cube". Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  20. ^ "Shortlist". visibleproject. 2017-08-04. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  21. ^ Yale World Fellow
  22. ^ press release Prins Bernhard cultuurfonds, 26/05/2013
  23. ^ Cultuurprijs Vlaanderen 2009
  24. ^ Stimulans Prijs Film

External links[edit]