Sammy Baloji | Kolwezi



2006, the first democratic elections held in Congo. The same year corresponds to a strong external demand for copper and cobalt. Several international investors flock to Katanga. Among these investors, you meet Chinese. China promises to rehabilitate infrastructure in return for Congolese mineral development in Katanga.

Following the series Mémoire (2006), I documented since 2009 artisanal mining in Kolwezi, a region of Katanga. Artisanal mining appeared shortly after the downfall of the mining industry controlled by Gécamines, supported by the government, and has today become a practice of survival for the Congolese.Workers in these artisanal mines include former Gécamines workers, their family members, students and unemployed families who fled the war.

Given their current territorial and economic instability, artisanal miners live in tented cities of makeshift tarpaulins near the mining areas. These living spaces and operations are temporary. Workers are subject to contracts signed between the state and investors. Maps of these exploitative industrial and artisanal sites remain unknown to all but the mining registers held by government.

The extraction takes place at sites previously drilled by mining machinery, with slopes up to over 100 meters in height. Armed with picks, hammers, lamps and bags of raffia, miners climb these slopes in search of heterogenite (raw material containing copper and cobalt). To extract heterogenite from these slopes, they must excavate tunnels of 60 to 100 meters into the earth, before reaching the vein (layer of earth containing heterogenite). Then they go up and down the slopes several times carrying over 50 pounds, to accumulate sufficient tonnage for industrial sale. Often miners are victims of landslides, but these losses do not stop the march to riches.

In these cities of canvas, I was struck by the presence of Chinese posters that decorate the interior walls of makeshift bars, hotels, homes, hair salons, photo studios … These posters depict images of Western and Asian cities, landscapes real or imagined. You can almost believe that these images represent the Congo of tomorrow. Thus, I have chosen to integrate these posters into my work as an extension of a utopian future born of artisanal mining, the loss of human lives, the export of minerals and the continuing displacement of populations.