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”.
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.
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: