Surface Tension: Paintings from the Poto-Poto School, 1950-1970

Gouache painting of two birds and tree.

"We will go forward, driven by the winds of history,

To free consciences

Subjugated for too long.

The roots of the upside-down tree

Will end up absorbing the rains

At the same time as our hopes

Mingled with the alchemy of our passions."

- excerpt from “The Song of Resistance” by Congolese poet Kama Sywor Kamanda


The Poto-Poto School of Painting, founded in 1951 by Frenchman and amateur painter Pierre Lods, began as a small informal painting workshop in the suburbs of Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, then under the colonial rule of France. Following the country’s independence in 1960, the school flourished under the leadership of former students Nicolas Ondongo and Guy Léon Fylla into a cultural center for African artists to explore their creativity freely. This collection of gouache paintings, purchased and brought back to the United States by Presbyterian missionary Reverend William Pruitt, presents the imagery of the artists’ daily lives in their own style as they found a way to celebrate their culture that had been long suppressed by European colonial power.

Though the Poto-Poto School has sustained its original mission from its founding into the present day, it has faced the brutal effects of colonialism throughout its history and in the intense ongoing conflicts between rebel ethnic groups and the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo across the river from Brazzaville. However, each painting remains a testament to the artists of the Poto-Poto School who formed a distinct Congolese visual style and found freedom in creative expression through art.

Exhibition and website curated by Izzy Brewer, class of 2024.


View all paintings in the collection in DLynx, the College's digital archive.