Panorama du Congo: The ‘All-Embracing’ Colonial Propaganda. Decolonising with VR and Artistic Research

Victor Flores

Keywords: Immersive Media; Media Heritage; Panoramas; Post-Colonial Studies; Virtual Reality

Participation: presential

Forgotten and much overlooked for over a century, the Panorama du Congo is one of the best examples of the imperialist uses of immersive media in the 20th century. Commissioned to promote the Belgian colonial enterprise in Congo at the 1913 Colonial Exhibition in Gent, this Panorama depicts Congo's exotic landscapes and the infrastructure projects funded by the Belgian government in its most profitable colony. Rolled up and stored for the last 100 years, this giant painting (14m x 115m) by Paul Mathieu and Alfred Bastien has surprisingly managed to stay unnoticed as if it were a very small canvas or a tiny myriorama at the bottom of a drawer. Its current invisibility in any museum or exhibition space alerts us to its polemic and disturbing nature. This apparently naïve landscape is, after all, a recall icon of the violent imperialist policies perpetrated in Congo (1885- 1960) and the turnout of a public and international scandal that has required one of the most powerful historic propaganda devices: the panorama.

The Panorama du Congo is not just an important case study for the ongoing debates on the decolonisation of museum collections. It is also an excellent case for testing new media such as Virtual Reality as a vehicle for preserving and decolonising cultural heritage. This is the goal of the recent research project CONGO VR to be presented in this talk. By photographing and re-curating this image in a Virtual Reality environment, CONGO VR aims to prepare this heritage for future critical engagement by different stakeholders, and to reflect on what is gained and lost through this new technological mediation. Positioned in the cross-section of media archaeology, artistic research and post-colonial studies, this project will draw on a great photographic venture, extensive archive research and a VR artistic research undertaken with Congolese artists and scholars. The virtual reenactment of the Panorama du Congo is also planned as a decolonial praxis, an opportunity to build the counter-narrative, or the ‘contrapuntal re-reading’ as Said put it (1993), which will allow us to confront its official story with new voices and context such as the denunciations of violence in Congo Free State in literature, photography or in reports such as those published by the Irish consul Roger Casement in 1904.

Congo VR is a research project funded by Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research Innovation, and hosted by FILMEU, a larger project funded by the EU to implement a European University of Film and Media Arts ( The project is steered by scholars from three institutions of higher education: LUCA School of Arts / KU Leuven (Brussels), Lusofona University (Lisbon) and the Institute for Art, Design and Technology (IADT) in Dublin.


Said, E. (1993), Culture and Imperialism, New York: Random House USA Inc.


Victor Flores is an Associate Professor and Head of the PhD Program in Media Arts and Communication at Lusófona University, in Lisbon, where he also coordinates the Early Visual Media Lab (CICANT). He is the founding organizer of the ‘International Conference on Stereo & Immersive Media: Photography, Sound and Cinema Research’, and the principal editor of the ‘International Journal on Stereo & Immersive Media’. He is currently the Principal Investigator of the research projects ‘Curiositas: Peeping Before Virtual Reality. A Media Archaeology of Immersion Through VR and the Iberian Cosmoramas’ (FCT) and ‘Decolonising the Panorama of Congo: A Virtual Heritage Artistic Research’ (H2020). Between 2018 and 2021 he organised and curated the 'Catalogue Raisonné of Carlos Relvas's Stereoscopic Photography’ ( Since 2015 he has curated several exhibitions dedicated to stereoscopic photography and in 2020 he joined the administration board of the ‘Fundación para la Difusión de la Fotografía y Estereoscopía Histórica FBS’ in Madrid.

Leen Engelen is a film- and media historian at LUCA School of Arts/KU Leuven in Belgium. She published widely on film, media and visual culture in the nineteenth and twentieth century, including immersive media such as panoramas and the Kaiserpanorama. An overview of her publications can be found here: She is currently Principal Investigator (with Victor Flores) of the research project !Decolonising the Panorama of Congo: A Virtual Heritage Artistic Research" (H2020). Leen is also affiliated with the University of Antwerp, where she is currently working on the B-Magic project, an Excellence of Science Research project on the history of the uses of the magic lantern in Belgium. Leen is an honorary academic at the School of History (University of Kent) and is currently the president of the International Association for Media and History (

Linda King is a design historian, educator and broadcaster. She is Senior Lecturer in Design and Visual Culture at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dublin and sits on the Board of National Museum of Ireland. She is currently a Senior Researcher for the research project ‘Decolonising the Panorama of Congo: A Virtual Heritage Artistic Research’ (H2020) and co-Principal Investigator for ‘Digital Mythologies’ (Erasmus+). Linda has published extensively on Irish design and visual culture as cultural history, with an emphasis on discourses of national identity and decolonization. She is co-editor of the landmark publication Ireland, design and visual culture: negotiating modernity, 1922–92 (2011) and received the ‘Outstanding contribution to Irish Design’ award (2011) for writing the first survey of Irish design practices. Linda is a member of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) and Irish Association of Professional Historians (IAPH). She is a regular contributor to radio and television programmes including as the design curator/consultant for the social history television series, National Treasures (RTE 1, 2018), a format that has been remade in New Zealand, Spain and Denmark.