Sammy Baloji | Congo Far West



Congo Far West: Retracing Charles Lemaire’s Expedition (2011) revisits this violent 1898 Belgian expedition in the eastern Congo, exploring the exact sites where murders, massacres, and other colonial events occurred. Each site generates either single images or, frequently, diptychs that juxtapose an enlarged 1898 black-and-white photograph shot by the expedition’s official photographer, Francois Michel, with Sammy Baloji’s contemporary color photograph of the same location. In one diptych the expedition’s photograph of Kayamkela Cave was taken when the Belgians burned to death the population of a village who had fled there to shelter; Baloji’s photograph shows the same site now existing as part of a mining concession. Another pair of images record the site where the Belgian Lt. Fremont was killed during the expedition, while Baloji’s picture includes a descendant of one of the seven survivors of the Kayamkela Cave massacre. Four works combine depêched photographic portraits by Francois Michel collaged onto backgrounds that consist of watercolor landscapes produced by Leon Dardenne, also part of the expedition. Baloji’s work activates the original landscape painting, devoid of any signs of human habitation, with images of local inhabitants, reclaiming the landscape for it’s indigenous populations.