- Illuminating Urban Lives
The exhibition "Urban Now: City Life in Congo," by photographer Sammy Baloji and anthropologist Filip de Boeck, is a polymorphous creation, bringing together Baloji's film captures of the city of Kinshasa with De Boeck's insights into urban life, history, and the ruptures and continuities inherent in Congolese social life. The authors' collective creative interpretation of urban life is expressed through various media: a book, a picture exhibition, films, and an installation. The exhibition, curated by Devrim Bayar, has circulated widely since its launching in 2016 at the WIELS Contemporary Art Center in Brussels. It has been seen at The Power Plant (Toronto), The Open Society Foundations (New York), and Galerias Municipais / EGEAC (Lisbon).
The pairing of anthropology and photography can be traced to their common function of representing otherness. This particular relationship is reinforced by the use of film, which allows the narrative and the temporal dimension to emerge in visual representation. Jean Rouch understood this while creating his movies "on the move" to juxtapose the narratives of West African villagers and the ambition of the new urban dwellers, as in Moi un Noir. The encounter between the anthropologist-turned-filmmaker Filip de Boeck and the photographer-turned ethnographer Sammy Baloji was a most promising one. And both creations—the exhibition and the book—are enriching and enriched by their double perspective. [End Page 174]
Sammy Baloji (Lubumbashi, 1978) is a photographer and artist researching the history and social life of Congo. He is one of the founders of "Rencontres Picha," a photographic biennial held in his hometown of Lubumbashi. His work revolves around the theme of the historical roots of contemporary splits and contrasts in Congolese social life. Baloji become known when one of his earlier works, Mémoires, was awarded a prize at the Bamako Photography Encounters in 2007. This work, based on a juxtaposition of colonial pictures of violence and dominations with a contemporary exposition of the mining region of Katanga, the Baloji homeland, is emblematic of Baloji's subsequent works. In Portugal he participated in the collective exhibition "Present Tense" (2013), exhibiting his work on Chinese investment in the deteriorated mining companies, with contrasting images of the daily lives of the workers and inhabitants of the region. Historical tensions, from colonialism to neoliberalism, are continuously explored in his work.
Filip de Boeck is a Belgian anthropologist working on postcolonial social intersections, best known for his works on urban settings and youth agency in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He works at the Catholic University of Leuven and is the coordinator of the Institute for Anthropological Research in Africa. His incursions into visual arts and documentary include curatorial projects such as The World according to Bylexfor the Royal Flemish Theatre, (Brussels 2008) and Kinshasa: The Imaginary City, for the 9th International Architecture Biennial (Venice 2006). Documentaries include Cemetery State(2010) and The Tower: A Concrete Utopia(2016), created in collaboration with Sammy Baloji. He also collaborated with photographer Marie Françoise Plissart on a work entitled Kinshasa: Tales of the Invisible City(2014).
The exhibition challenges the viewers, escorting them through the visibilities and the unseens of Kinshasa's urban life. Baloji's pictures, large as life, are paired with an installation on the new ghetto condominiums in Kinshasa and with two documentary films, Fugurume/Pungulumeand The Tower. The exhibition is divided into several nuclei, including a first-hand view of life on the streets, the OCPT Building, the Cemetery, La Cité du Fleuve and the Vegetable Gardens of the Malebo Pool, and Land Chiefs. It opens with a scale model of the city of Kinkole, one of the last planned quarters of Kinshasa, partially built in the late sixties. The geometrical proportions of the model immediately remind the visitor that architecture and urbanization...