Maarten Vanden Eynde

The Invisible Hand

Natural rubber, Victorian mahogany display, 78 x 69 x 40 cm.
(In private collection, Norway)

The Invisible Hand is a rubber copy of the right hand of Leopold II, taken at night from the sculpture by Thomas Vinçotte made in 1926, located at the Regentlaan in Brussels, Belgium. The constructed mould was taken to a former rubber plantation in Kasai-Occidental in the Democratic Republic of Congo and filled up with natural rubber. The rubber hand was presented at the art fair Art Brussels, completing the problematic circle of colonial treasure hunting in relation to historical fetishisation.

The Invisible Hand refers both to the theory of Adam Smith, who described in 1759 in The Theory of Moral Sentiments the self regulating effect of a market economy in which everyone strives for personal gain and profit, and as a result infuses the entire economy and creates a collective welfare. Leopold II used his so-called philanthropic International African Association (1877 – 1879) and later the Congo Free State (1885 –1908) to pillage the available natural resources. The ironic and macabre result is that by doing so, he indeed 'unwillingly' instigated a local economic growth, but at a high price. More than 10 million people are estimated to have died as a consequence of Leopolds 'Invisible Hand’.

At the other hand, The Invisible Hand points at the horrible custom of chopping of innumerable hands of enslaved people to ensure the demanded rubber quota.