In Kongo Astronauts’ “After Schengen” series, an afrofuturist astronaut in a golden suit plastered with digital detritus—motherboards from cellphones and computers, keyboards, and mice—evokes aspirations of travel to distant realms. Yet, in reality, the astronaut is trapped within the laden suit and must labor in the equatorial heat through trying environments. This ambiguity of desire and constraint is a metaphor for life in the chaos of post-colonialism. Ironically, the minerals mined in Congo—cobalt, copper, coltan, gold, zinc, lithium, tantalum—that make realizable elsewhere current modernity, with its tantalizing electronica and its dawning futures, return to Congo as digital junk. Yet, the indomitable astronaut soldiers on, on a wing and prayer, sweating, breathing in, and breathing out, striving toward the best of all possible worlds, shielded in dumped e-waste.
In its titling, “After Schengen” also invites us to read a critique of the exclusion of African visitors—much less immigrants—to the colonial “fatherlands” that once exercised authority over them and that now shelter behind their shared European border of the “Schengen Treaty” states. In 2018, President Kabila’s suppression of democracy in the Congo provoked a spat with Belgium, and Kabila ordered Belgium to close both its development agency in the Congo and it’s EU visa-processing center. For citizens of the Congo, the possibility of travel to Europe—which many view as an idealized other world—always difficult, became impossible. When circumnavigation around obstacles becomes impossible, what solutions and alternatives can one, must one, imagine to escape? Perhaps more importantly, what then becomes possible? Such existential questions are relevant to us all as we confront the manifold crises of late capitalism and climate change, dilemmas that seem to demand that we boldly venture forth toward new frontiers, to mimic the introductory words of every episode of Star Trek.
The jet in the “Schengen Series” is an abandoned project of former President Kabila’s wife, who had it reconstructed on this site in a national park, intending to create a luxury restaurant with a VIP bedroom built nearby in a control tower from which presumably one might view protected wildlife. Her fantasy, after the Schengen spat and Kabila’s fall, dissolved; all that remains of the future world she imagined is scrap.