Judson-Morrissey 2022 Fellow: Rodney Kimbangu

Rodney Kimbangu, a Congolese artist and visual storyteller with a B.A. in Painting and Film production, is
now pursuing an M.F.A. in Creative Technologies. His work focuses on the human condition and how
complex human beings can be.

His work has appeared in magazines, galleries, and a National Geographic competition. His latest short
films, “Lituka” and “Unfulfilled,” have screened at 50+ film festivals worldwide and won awards. He is
currently developing three short films while simultaneously working on the project “Africans,” a portrait
series that displays African people’s beauty and humanity. The highlight of his life was when, at Berea
College, he received a film award named after him a few weeks before he graduated.

Rodney was a recipient of a 2022 Judson-Morrissey Excellence in New Media Award.

Tell us a little about your background and your trajectory as an artist and/or scholar.

I was born and raised in Congo, and I was fascinated by taking my toys apart and putting them back
together. I wanted to build flying crafts later in life, and I knew I had to become an engineer to make it
happen. Nevertheless, I started finger drawing on sand when I was four, and my sister, who had just returned from France, where she had lived for years, noticed that I would make a good artist, but I wanted to build airplanes and machines, and my academic choices were based on studying mathematics and physics to prepare me for engineering school. I made planes out of cardboard in 4th grade and hoped I would make them fly one day, but I also noticed I could act, so I joined a theater club at my elementary school, and I was the cream of the crop; it felt like drinking a sweet drink from the cup of artistic creation, and I loved it.

As a teenage boy, I took detours that were paramount to my success later in my life. I learned ceramics,
sculpting, painting, drawing, dance, photography, graphic design, 3D modeling, video editing, and web
development as extra-curricular activities or self-directed out-of-school pursuits. Soon after high school, I
started freelancing part-time as an artist while pursuing a degree in Civil Engineering full-time (I had pivoted because the engineering school I attended only offered degrees in civil engineering and construction-related fields). In Congo, one needs an associate’s degree before earning a bachelor’s. So, when I finally earned my associate’s, I left school; I did not use that degree as much as I had anticipated, though it still bleeds into my artistic practice. I started freelancing full-time and dove deeper into video making and film before moving to America to study Business and Entrepreneurship at Dartmouth College, Painting and Film Production at Berea College, Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy, and Creative Technologies at Virginia Tech, where I believe my engineering and artistic backgrounds finally meshed perfectly. Today, I am an artist who now lets the content dictate which medium it would be best suited for.

What are some of your main influences?

I am inspired by multiple artists and anyone with authentic creative juice as long as they spark a
conversation that heals, invites further investigation, entertains, and fosters growth instead of dividing
people and spreading fear. I borrow from any creative form and any artist; even a rock turns into an
influence when I connect with it under the right circumstances. And though people, nature, and things
inspire me, dreams, observing human beings, and a desire to humanize people influence my work and drive what I create.

New Media is …….

New Media is like the cool kid that everyone else in high school wanted to be like but ended up bullying
instead of befriended. New Media is the vehicle artists are using to push the envelope of creativity and art. It serves as a reminder that we need to venture further away from our comfortable traditional arts and explore new possibilities. I sense that it is the next iteration of our artistic evolution, which requires artists to assess the message and medium as we bring in new technologies and fuse them with art. I find it fascinating that it also cautions us as we explore technology, content, and form.

What are you working on now?

I am working on two projects at the moment. On one hand, I am developing a photographic body of work
entitled “Africans,” where I photograph Africans in their most beautiful attire to humanize them and bring a positive narrative in a conversation that primarily sheds a negative light on the perception of Africa,
Africans, their talent, drive, and humanity. I find it deceptive and dishonest how much the western media
paints an unfavorable picture of Africa, and no one seems to balance the narrative; I want to be one of the
few that do because I do not expect anyone else to do this work except Africans themselves.

On the other hand, I am working on a tentatively titled “Reclaiming Stolen/Lost Congolese Artifacts,” a multi-disciplinary project that uses photogrammetry, VR, and AR to digitize lost/stolen artifacts to make them available to young Congolese artists that need their inspiration to be rooted in their ancestral artistry, culture, and narrative.

Do you have a collaborative idea that you want to get off the ground?

Yes, I have a documentary-style TV series idea I would like to get off the ground, and it is about gender. The conversation around gender should be a conversation that brings us together to listen to one another and attempt to understand each other. Yet, it is one of the most polarizing, silencing, and divisive topics used to divide men and women. I’ve had enough with this status quo, and I want to show us our shortcomings and make us deal with them by following people in real-life situations involving some form of gender performance. I have never produced an episodic documentary before. While I have produced and directed short films that were successful enough to win awards, I think I will need someone to help me with this work when I finish writing the treatment.

What is the most recent thing you’ve learned?

I have recently learned that telling hard truths (even in the most respectful ways) instead of comforting lies seems to be offensive nowadays.