Congo in Conversation

Linda Maroy, 20, enjoys a quiet moment on Lake Kivu in the periodically beseiged city of Bukavu on the 60th anniversary of DRC’s independence from Belgium. Public celebrations were canceled as they were for the 50th anniversary with the populace being encouraged to mark the day “in meditation”.

Artists and the flourishing Congo cultural scene emerge in our time as a vital front in the struggle to create a more just nation free of war.  While there is ebb and flow in organizing political protest and resistance in the context of the government’s and ruling elite’s surveillance and harsh repression, Congolese artists continue to depict the brutal inequality of the nation’s current political economy and their vision of social change and a new order.  A few non-Congolese artists of international renown have in recent years shown solidarity with Congolese “culture warriors” and sought to create a global platform for contemporary Congolese art. 

The recent project of the British-Canadian photographer Finbar O’Reilly has succeeded in drawing attention to the work of a dozen Congolese photographers, half of whom are women.  In an article for the Guardian newspaper, O’Reilly wrote, ”Dismantling the systems that have traditionally excluded African photographers from global conversations about their countries requires those of us in positions of privilege to understand that structural advantages have kept us in control”.

People gather to fill containers from a water truck in Kanyaruchinya on the outskirts of Goma, also highly subject to warlords’ attacks, in the capital of eastern DRC’s North Kivu province, in 2017. Three quarters of the nation’s population lack access to safe drinking water.  (Photograph by Ley Uwera for Fondation Carmignac)
Members of the pro-democracy and civil society movement Filimbi carry out a public educational campaign about coronavirus in a market in DRC’s capital, Kinshasa. Health and sanitation education by civil society and churches has contributed significantly to the fight against COVID. Congo has recorded only 300 deaths in the population of 90 million.

Awarded a sizable stipend by the French Carmignac Foundation to carry out a project of photographing Congo in 2020, when COVID closed borders O’Reilly and the Foundation agreed on an alternative plan.  Congolese photographers were named and funded to create a portfolio focusing on selected themes of Congolese life. In the same article referenced above, O’Reilly described the selected themes:

“Raissa Karama Rwizibuka examined environmental issues in Virunga national park, and fashion and self-confidence in a post-colonial context. Arlette Bashizi captured the realities of confinement in a country with unreliable electricity. Moses Sawasawa looked at politics and insecurity caused by the ongoing conflicts, along with Dieudonné Dirole. Ley Uwera photographed Ramadan under lockdown, and the challenges of living through a pandemic where access to water is severely limited. When the Black Lives Matter movement turned the world’s attention toward global anti-racism protests, Pamela Tulizo examined aspects of our collective post-colonial psychology, but also ideas about African women and beauty.”

The International Criminal Court collaborated with O’Reilly and the Fondation Carmignac on Congo in Conversation.  One of the Court’s judges explained their involvement, “Listening, learning and engaging with victims and other survivors is the first step to access to justice.”  

In the photo gallery that follows photos from the project are featured along with the names of the Congolese photographers. They are all taken from the article written by Finbarr O’Reilly and Matt Fidler in The Guardian dated November 23, 2020.

With schools closed during Congo’s period of confinement, Marie, 13, studies at home by the light of a mobile phone during one of the regular power cuts in Goma in April. Photograph by Arlette Bashizi
Vendors and shoppers at a market on the shores of Lake Kivu in Goma, April 2020. Photograph by Moses Sawasawa for Fondation Carmignac
“Sapeurs” or “Fashionistas” strut their styles in Bukavu in August 2020. Raissa Karama Rwizibuka for Fondation Carmignac.
Making charcoal in the aftermath of deforestation on the edge of Virunga National Park, November 2020.© Guerchom Ndebo for Fondation Carmignac
Villagers gather for a health lecture in Rutshuru, North Kivu Province. Not long before, villagers had buried an 11 month old girl who died from Ebola November 2020. Finbarr O’Reilly for Fondation Carmignac.
Protesters at a Black Lives Matter rally in Brussels carry signs denouncing Belgium’s imperial exploitation of what is now DRC. Pamela Tulizo for Fondation Carmignac
Rangers guard the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in eastern DRC in January. Photograph by Raissa Karama Rwizibuka for Fondation Carmignac
Congo in Conversation was mounted in an outdoor exhibit in Paris in 2021. Photo by Jasmine Olivia Murphy.
The likeness of a Congolese soldier stands in a field near the village of Tche in DRC’s north-eastern Ituri province in mid-February. Photograph by Dieudonne Dirole for Fondation Carmignac
Women do each other’s hair in Bukavu during Coronavirus confinement in May. Raissa Rwizibuka Karama for Fondation Carmignac

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After being exhibited in Paris and Antwerp, the photographs will be on public display at the Bronx Documentary Center in New York City from Sept. 8 -Oct. 12.

The Fondation Carmignac funded publication of two books of photographs that are now available for order at around $50 each:

Congo in Conversation and

Congo:Une Lutte Sublime  Congo photographs by Finbarr O’Reilly

For further information on the project go to:

https://www.fondationcarmignac.com/fr/finbarr-o-reilly/

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