brought by force to work and the way that affected them. I wondered about this post-colonial period after independence and how our leaders now think about society and people. It was interesting to focus on the way archives can talk. With photography, people were treated with only a camera. There is something really violent in the way they were depicted. RB: Does the act of taking a photograph create further separation? SB: You do see that. You can even see it when you compare black people and white people in the pictures. There’s a real separation. I started to think about the past and trying to mix it with the present, because I don’t think there is separation there. There can be some discontinuity, but we still live in the same process. Archives do not belong to the past. Somehow it’s just about looking to the past from this point in time and seeing how the past can influence the present. For me, it’s about now.
SB: No, but now what I’m trying to do with my work is to present a fact. I think there is another way to see or to deal with the city. RB: There’s a history of people leaving a difficult environment and finding that they have much to teach the world about dealing with accelerated power structures. Do you find that you are now working in two environments: the Congo and the environment here – a postcolonial, postmodern Belgium?
RB: Your work acts as a bridge between now and colonial times, then?
SB: Yes. Actually, I think that I belong to the two parts of the world that I come from, but I’m not focused on the Congo being in Africa and Europe being somewhere else. The reason for the First World War was not about the assassination of someone, like everyone says. It was because European countries wanted colonies. Since then, we have been in a relationship. We are still linked. I used to think that people in Europe believed themselves to be separate from Africa, even though they get resources from African countries. They still think they are here and we are there, which is wrong. In a way I still think we are connected – all of us.
SB: I set out to discover the history because I knew nothing about the colonial past. We don’t talk about that time.
RB: In Venice, you’re working with many other artists. That dialogue is complex. What do you learn in that context?
RB: Why is that?
SB: It’s not just other artists. It’s other architects and photographers. I come from the Congo where we haven’t got an Academy of Fine Arts and the only way you can do anything is to collaborate with other people or it can’t exist. So I have this positive notion about working within a group; I need to be in a community and a group is a community, in a way. I’m not the kind of man who thinks just about himself. Working with other artists makes me feel stronger. —CCQ
SB: Collective trauma. I think President Mobutu wanted to erase the past, but also create a national identity. We had a dictatorial period for nearly two years and people were tired of that. My work is an introspection, while also trying to balance these ideas. But I want more information. I don’t just want to use archives. RB: When you look back through these archives, you apply the same sensibility in your own work. So where could that process go beyond photography? Any plans to extend your practice to other media? SB: My work is about space and human bodies in the space. It’s not about archives. It’s about our positions in the landscape. What’s the position of the body in society? When we talk about society or the city, it’s interesting to understand how the body can define these social structures. I also try to understand how people deal with the city. People are dealing with the city in their own painful way of mixing tradition with modern. Now the conversation suggests we just copy and paste the colonial constitution but, in reality, there’s a mix of the traditional pre-colonial period and the modern way of thinking and being. I’m trying to show that mix; it’s an identity that resonates with a lot of people today. So actually my work makes cartographies or topographies of cities. It examines the remains of the postcolonial conception of spatial politics related to the body. In that sense, I’m using scarification because scarification is a graphic signature, or way of writing, belonging to a political thinking, but also a social way of living and community. RB: Is there a tradition of scarification in the Congo? SB: Yes, but it disappeared with missionaries during the colonial period. RB: Has it re-emerged now?
Ric Bower spoke to Sammy Baloji at the Imane Fares stand at Art Brussels. Baloji exhibits work as part of Personne et les autres: Vincent Meessen and Guests at the Belgian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale until 22 November 2015. personne-et-les-autres.be/ belgianpavilion.be/en imanefares.com
p45 (top) Untitled 18, Sammy Baloji, 2006, 60 x 159cm, archival digital photograph on satin matte paper Courtesy of the artist and Imane Farès p45 (middle) Untitled 12, Sammy Baloji, 2006, 60 x 180cm, archival digital photograph on satin matte paper Courtesy of the artist and Imane Farès p45 (bottom) Untitled 24, Sammy Baloji, 2006, 60 x 160cm, archival digital photograph on satin matte paper Courtesy of the artist and Imane Farès p46 Essay on Urban Planning, Sammy Baloji, 2013, 12 colour photographs Copyright Sammy Baloji, courtesy the artist and Imane Farès
Venice Biennale interviews: herman de vries, Katerina Gregos, Song Dong, Sean Lynch. As well as conversations with Laura Ford, Sammy Baloji,...