Congo Pavilion opens at 2023 London Design Biennale 

‘Virtual Congo’ recreates DRC’s national museum in an interactive digital-physical installation  

London, 1 June 2023 – Democratic Republic of Congo’s national museum is the centrepiece of the country’s inaugural pavilion at 2023 London Design Biennale.

The installation brings central Africa’s diverse and cultures to life through a virtual version of the DRC national museum (MNRDC). Produced by MNRDC, Africell and Demif Gallery, and supported by DRC’s digital ministry and embassy in the UK, the Congo Pavilion – titled ‘Virtual Congo’ – shines a spotlight on one of Africa’s most impressive cultural institutions with an interactive experience combining virtual reality, photography and storytelling.

MNRDC is home to thousands of artefacts, artworks, and records relating to one of Africa’s biggest, most important and least understood countries. Constructed with the financial and technical support of the South Korean government, it opened in its new building in Kinshasa in 2019. The museum challenges narratives about the DRC which emphasise negative themes and undervalue its extraordinary cultural patrimony.

MNRDC’s architecture blends traditional African design features (such as integrated tribal patterns and local-style brickwork) with visionary engineering, offering a beautiful and environmentally conscious platform for cultural education and conservation. ‘Virtual Congo’ invites visitors to explore a digital avatar of the museum through headsets set up in a room designed to replicate certain aspects of the real museum building – including the style and layout of its galleries.

Co-curator of the Congo Pavilion Sam Williams explains that the pavilion evokes a vivid sense of place. “For most people in the UK, travel to Democratic Republic of the Congo is not a realistic possibility – partly for logistical reasons, and partly because the country’s reputation disincentivises tourism. This is a pity because among many other qualities and attractions, it is home to a truly world-class museum – the MNRDC – which offers a spectacular celebration of African culture exemplifies how innovation, art and history converge in well-designed institutions. The Congo Pavilion transports visitors to Kinshasa and encourages them to reassess what they think they know about what DRC looks and feels like”. 

Image: the pavilion is designed to include physical features – such as tribal patterns and brickwork – which exist in the real MNRDC in Kinshasa

DRC’s inaugural pavilion at London Design Biennale is the result of a partnership between MNRDC and Africell, a mobile operator in DRC. The ‘Virtual Congo’ project has been enabled by collaboration with a range of governmental and arts institutions, including the DRC Digital ministry and DRC’s embassy in London.

“Our ambition is to shift the narrative around DRC in countries like the UK”, says Ndolamb Mgokwey, DRC’s ambassador in London. “Congo boasts an almost unrivalled cultural wealth. Displaying a version of our exceptional national museum in the heart of London is helping us to achieve this”.

MNRDC has never previously executed a ‘pop-up’ overseas. Jean-Pierre Bokole, its director, says: “Design is in the DNA of the museum’s architecture, curatorial approach and collections. Exhibiting at London Design Biennale will enable many more people to experience MNRDC and advances the message that good design is an essential requirement for cultural sustainability in countries like Congo”.

African representation at previous editions of London Design Biennale has included designers from Ghana, Nigeria and the ‘African diaspora’. 2023 is the first time that DRC – the second biggest country in Africa, with a population of almost a hundred million – has exhibited. Africa is home to only 1.5% of the world’s museums. By showcasing an outstanding African museum, the Congo Pavilion amplifies the contribution of the continent’s cultural institutions to conversations such as those addressed at 2023 London Design Biennale.

Victoria Broackes, Director of the London Design Biennale, says that the Congo Pavilion’s exemplifies the festival’s theme.

“We are thrilled to have the Democratic Republic of Congo present a pavilion at 2023 London Design Biennale,” she says. “It speaks brilliantly to our theme of Remapping Collaborations: with the innovative use of technology, with the multi-way collaborations and how they come together in realizing the project, but also in the possibilities that this hidden world of treasures can now bring to inspire people around the world.”

London Design Biennale 2023 takes place from 1 to 25 June at Somerset House in central London. The Democratic Republic of Congo Pavilion is in room 8 in the West Wing.