Born in Katanga, a resource-rich region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sammy Baloji uses photography to explore the histories, present-day realities and contradictions inherent in the formation of his homeland. The mining company Gécamines, founded in 1906 by Belgian colonisers and taken over by Mobutu Sese Seko’s government in 1966, becomes a metaphor for the country’s history. Once a mainstay of the economy and principal source of the DRC’s export earnings, the company has gradually been driven to the brink of bankruptcy.
In his photomontages, Baloji superimposes archival images of European officials and Congolese labourers who built the mine’s once-imposing industrial sites onto contemporary photographs that highlight their current state of decline and ruin. The company’s history is inextricably connected to that of the country and the well-being of its people. Baloji has commented that although the Congolese ‘know Gécamines will never be the same “goose that lays golden eggs”, it has fed, clothed, and educated not only themselves but also their parents, their grandparents and even great great grandparents.’
Through its layering, Mémoire is an apt reminder of the country’s changing economic fortunes, the results of the insatiable exploitation of its resources and the inhumanity of the colonial period. In referencing histories of Western imperialism Baloji highlights colonial greed and post-colonial disillusionment but also alludes to the ongoing effects of predatory global capitalism.
What do you want, it’s not just ‘Mayibwe’ which are the remains of Gécamines!
I saw the still warm entrails of brownfields, the famous Congolese economic powerhouse.
I saw the memory of an epic illustrated, the heyday of these settlers dapper
I’ve seen looks black and white
I saw women and children
I saw the power
I saw the big elephant collapse (on four legs) on the eve of its hundred years.
It was enough to read the past in the light of this.