Sammy Baloji | Vues de Likasi



Adopting a rigorous documentary format, Sammy Baloji photographed the main streets in Likasi, a city in the province of Katanga in the southwest Congo, in 2005. Belgian colonists began exploiting the resources in the mining region of Katanga in the late nineteenth century. Made wealthy through the use of forced labor, the deportation of men from neighboring countries, and the construction of its railroad, Katanga developed to the point where it became one of the pillars of the Congolese economy. Likasi, a small industrial city that draws its revenue from the extraction of copper, also has an architectural heritage that makes it a destination for tourists.The buildings that Baloji shows viewers bear the traces and signs of colonialization, and the city’s cultural and industrial legacies are expressed in a highly coherent architectural style. Built between 1920 and 1950 and still intact, Likasi’s houses all have the same proportions, while the administrative and commercial buildings, villas, and industrial complexes embody the vestiges of European domination. Every day, Likasi’s inhabitants come face to face with their country’s violent history and painful past. In order to express the still strong presence of their memory of authoritarianism,Baloji has photographed the street(s) building by building on the main street(s) and put the photographs together to make a vast panoramic fresco(…). The presentation of this urban landscape, rarely shown due to a ban on photographing public buildings in theDemocratic Republic of Congo, is a physical experience: visitors follow a pre-established itinerary through the exhibition space. The systematic shots, the artist’s precision and penchant for detail, and the rigor ofthe frontal aesthetic imbue the project with an almost scientific character and transform the whole into a voluminous archive.But the carefully thought-out and executed mise-en-scène makes up for the photographer’s apparent absence from his images.