This exhibition by photographer Sammy Baloji and anthropologist Filip De Boeck offers an exploration of different urban sites in Congo, through the media of photography and video. Focusing upon the “urban now”, a moment suspended between the broken dreams of a colonial past and the promises of neoliberal futures, the exhibition offers an artistic and ethnographic investigation of what living – and living together – might mean in Congo’s urban worlds.
As elsewhere on the African continent, Congo’s cities increasingly imagine new futures for themselves. Today, these new urban dreams often only manifest themselves in the form of billboards and advertisements for the city to come, inspired by Dubai and other recent hot spots from the Global South. Ironically, the city model they propose invariably gives rise to new geographies of exclusion that often take the form of gated communities and luxury satellite towns designed for a still somewhat hypothetical local upper middle class.
In sharp contrast with these neoliberal imaginings, the current infrastructure of Congo’s cities is of a rather different kind. The built colonial legacy has largely fallen into disrepair. Its functioning is punctuated by constant breakdown, and the city is replete with disconnected fragments, reminders and echoes of a former modernity that continues to exist in a shattered form. These failing material infrastructures greatly impact upon the quality of the city’s social life, and push it to the limit of what is livable. Yet Congo’s urban residents constantly engage in inventing new social spaces to bypass or overcome breakdown, exclusion, poverty and violence. Exploring these spaces, the exhibition captures a more inhabitable and inclusive urban world, where the possibilities of collective action and dreams of a shared future continue to be explored.
Curator: Devrim Bayar
The exhibition is organized in collaboration with and will travel to Galerias Municipais/EGEAC, Lisbon, and The Power Plant, Toronto.
With the support of the Research Fund of KU Leuven and Imane Farès Gallery, Paris.
In collaboration with Kunstenfestivaldesarts & Summer of Photography 2016.
In this exhibition the artists Sammy Baloji and Patrick Mudekereza present us with a contemporary take on the colonial past. As artists in residence in the museum they got carte blanche in the museum collections. In dialogue with scientists from the museum they have started working with a few collection pieces dating from the beginning of Congo’s colonial history. These collection pieces exhale the atmosphere of the conquest of Congolese territory by the West. The leitmotif of the exhibition ‘Congo Far West’ refers not only to this territorial conquest, but also to the contemporary Congolese artists who artistically and intellectually recapture the collection pieces conserved in the West.
Patrick Mudekereza is a writer and poet but he also writes texts for comic strips, exhibitions and audiovisual art. During his time in the museum he is working on a hybrid sculpture entitled L’art au Congo which raises a whole host of questions, and treaties signed with a cross which sealed the transfer of land from the local chefs to Leopold II. Photographer Sammy Baloji is working on a series of photographs and watercolours from a colonial exhibition led by Charles Lemaire. He has already exhibited in cities such as Paris, Bamako, Brussels, Cape Town and Bilbao. A Beautiful Time, his first solo exhibition in the United States, taking place in the Museum for African Art in New York, will be on show in in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington in 2012. Sammy Baloji and Patrick Mudekereza both live and work in Lubumbashi in DR Congo. Together they are organising the photography biennale Rencontres Picha in Lubumbashi, the third edition of which will take place in 2012.
Autograph ABP presents a rarely seen archive dating from 1904, created by English missionary Alice Seeley Harris in the Congo Free State. These pioneering photographs publicly exposed the violent consequences of human rights abuses at the turn of the century, and are exhibited alongside newly commissioned work from acclaimed contemporary Congolese artist Sammy Baloji.
In the early 1900s, the missionary Alice Seeley Harris produced what was probably the first photographic campaign in support of human rights. She exposed the atrocities that underpinned King Leopold II’s regime in the Congo Free State, bringing to public attention the plight of the Congolese people under a violent and oppressive regime.
These photographs fundamentally shifted public awareness of the deep-rooted hypocrisy of King Leopold II’s promise of colonial benevolence, and caused an outcry at the time of their publication in Europe and America.
Over 100 years later, these issues remain of primary concern to Congolese citizen and artist Sammy Baloji. Like Harris, Baloji uses photography as a medium to interrogate current political concerns with reference to the past. Acclaimed for his photomontage works that juxtapose desolate post-industrial landscapes with ethnographic archival imagery, Baloji explores the cultural and architectural ‘traces’ of a country forever haunted by the spectres of its colonial past; in particular, the southeastern Katanga province and its capital, the city of Lubumbashi.
In this new body of work-in-progress, commissioned by Autograph ABP, Baloji continues to investigate the colonial legacies and fractured histories that haunt contemporary Congolese society. Notions of African utopias, post-colonial disillusionment, and a quest for authenticity amidst ‘the ruins of modernity’ define Baloji’s multi-layered practice: the impact of Western imperialism, Maoist communism, urban segregation and colonial sanitation politics as well as the unending mineral exploitation of the Congo’s natural resources, and with it the tragedies and traumas of state-controlled violence and ongoing human rights abuses.
Congo Dialogues marks the 175th anniversary of Anti-Slavery International and the invention of photography. The first major solo showcase of Sammy Baloji’s work in the UK, this exhibition presents a unique opportunity to see both historical and contemporary works interrogating the Congo and its colonial legacies. The Alice Seeley Harris archive was last shown to the public 110 years ago.