The Beautiful Time in Lubumbashi: Photography by Sammy Baloji at The Museum for African Art

. March 29, 2010

The Museum for African Art, New York, presents an exhibition of recent photographs and large-scale photomontages by Sammy Baloji, whose work explores the history of copper mining and postcolonial architecture in Katanga province and its major city of Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Organized by the Museum, The Beautiful Time in Lubumbashi: Photography by Sammy Baloji initiates an important dialogue about postcolonial history, urbanization, and the aspirations of youth in twenty-first-century Africa. It will be on view at the Sidney Mishkin Gallery, Baruch College, 135 East 22nd Street in New York City, open through April 28, 2010.

In the middle of the twentieth century, Katanga Province in southeastern DRC, was one of the most productive mining complexes in Africa and the world’s second largest producer of copper. Recollections of this mid-century period as “the beautiful time” have provoked the artist’s explorations of the paradoxes of life in Lubumbashi today. Once-lucrative mines, which loom large in historical memory, are still physically present, yet copper production is halting and undependable.

The Beautiful Time features Baloji’s articulate and moving images of out-of-use machinery and the industrial landscape of the run-down mining infrastructure. His photomontages combine archival pictures of mine workers and colonial administrators with his photographs of present-day Lubumbashi. The striking juxtaposition of the black-and-white historic images with jarring color portraits of today’s decayed mines evokes the mingling of past and present in the contemporary Lubumbashi cityscape. Baloji’s photographs and photomontages offer a unique perspective on a hundred years of the DRC’s social and political history, and reflect a period of industrial transformation and environmental decay.

For Baloji and others of his generation, who were born after DRC achieved independence in 1960, the colonial period (1908–1960) is viewed as a time when hard work transformed a sparsely inhabited area into a modern city. In contrast to this storied productivity, Baloji’s images portray an industrial environment haunted by the physical absence of humanity: no one is inside the buildings, machines are rusting and idle, and train tracks sit without trains. Like many young people in the Congo today, Baloji aims in his work to understand and reconnect two strikingly different eras.

In addition to the artist’s photographs and photomontages, the exhibition includes six examples of Congolese “popular paintings.” These are created in order to document local history and chronicle contemporary events, and those made in Katanga, like the ones on view in The Beautiful Time, frequently include references to copper mining. The examples in the exhibition are by artists whose work has inspired Baloji’s photographic practice, which is deeply rooted in Katanga’s visual culture and tradition.

The Beautiful Time is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by exhibition curator Bogumil Jewsiewicki, professor of history at Université Laval, Québec. Published by the Museum for African Art, the 48-page catalogue is distributed by the University of Washington Press and is available at www.africanart.org. The exhibition is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Verizon Foundation.

Sammy Baloji

Sammy Baloji (b. 1978, Lubumbashi, DRC) began working with photography and video after graduating from the University of Lubumbashi with a degree in Humanities Studies. In March 2005, the series Vues de Likasi was exhibited in Brussels. The series was later included in Cape 07, in Cape Town, South Africa. In December 2006, Baloji exhibited his film Mémoire at the Royal Flemish Theatre, Brussels, and in March 2007 the project was selected for the Festival International du Film d’Aubagne, France. Also in 2007, he exhibited at the French-Mozambican Cultural Centre of Maputo; in Brussels during Yambi 2007; in Photoquai, the First World Images Biennale, organized by the Musée du Quai Branly, in Paris; and in the seventh edition of the Bamako Photography Biennale, where he received the Image Award from the Foundation Blachère and the Africa in Creation Award from HRA Pharma and CulturesFrance. In 2008, he participated in residencies at the Musée Royale de l’Afrique Centrale in Tervuren, Belgium, and the Musée du Quai Branly. In 2009, Baloji exhibited his assemblages of Likasi at the Montreal Month of Photography, was a finalist for the Swiss Pictet award, and received a Prince Claus award, a program of the Dutch Priss Claus Fund.

Museum for African Art

The Museum for African Art collects, exhibits, and preserves art that is as dynamic and diverse as the continent of Africa. Since its founding twenty-five years ago, the Museum has maintained the highest commitment to presenting both classic and contemporary African art. It has organized more than sixty exhibitions—many of which have traveled to major venues internationally, and produced engaging publications of the highest scholarly merit, illuminating varied aspects of Africa’s rich artistic traditions and cultures. Although currently closed to the public in preparation for its move to a new home, on Fifth Avenue at 110th Street in Manhattan, the Museum continues to organize important exhibitions. The new facility will enable the Museum for African Art to expand its exhibitions and educational offerings to become a vital center for learning, dialogue, and the appreciation of African art and culture.

For additional information about the Museum and its exhibitions, and to purchase catalogues, the public may visit www.africanart.org

Image: Sammy Baloji, Untitled, 2006. Digital C-Print. 11 x 14.2 in. Images courtesy Museum for African Art

Category: Museum News

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