The Past in Front of Us
Through his intriguing and poignant pictures, Congolese artist and photographer Sammy Baloji confronts the Western portrayal of his country by linking old photographs from Belgian colonial times with contemporary ones. The result is captivating.
Because it is a rich mining region, mining was and is key in the Katanga province where Baloji grew up, and its past is heavy with slavery and exploitative hierarchies. Baloji discovered that he did not recognize the reality that the colonial photographs from his hometown represented. He therefore decided to make pictures of the new post-colonial industrial or abandoned landscapes, using these as a way of confronting the archived pictures. By this, he was able to challenge not only the past but also the present: “Africa is a European concept.”
Baloji, who started his career as a cartoonist, is interested in how an image can be used in society and how he can use these images semantically to communicate and to create a sort of fiction from reality: “It’s like creating my own story with different stories.” Time seems to go in circles in his pictures, always pointing to the beginning. There’s a presence, which the viewer is faced with, but at the same time this presence belongs to the past: “Reality has a complex relationship with past, present, now, yesterday or today.”
Sammy Baloji (b. 1978) is an artist from the Democratic Republic of Congo. After his graduation from the University of Lubumbashi he worked as a cartoonist and later specialized in video art and photography. Recurrent themes in his work are ethnographic exploitation, architecture and urbanism, and he uses photography to explore the histories, present-day realities and contradictions inherent in the formation of his homeland. Baloji has exhibited in international venues such as Tate Modern in London, Axis Gallery in New York, Musee du Quai in Paris, Bamako Biennale in Mali and Cup Biennale in South Africa. In 2007 he was twice awarded the ‘Prize Africa in Creation’ (Prix Afrique en Creation) and the ‘Prize for the Image’ (Prix pour l’image). In 2009 he was honoured with a ‘Prince Claus Award’ from the Netherlands. He lives and works in Lubumbashi.
Sammy Baloji was interviewed by Mathias Ussing Seeberg in Copenhagen in 2015.
Camera: Nikolaj Jungersen
Edited by: Sonja Strange
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015
Supported by Nordea-fonden