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The Beautiful Time in Lubumbashi: Photography by Sammy Baloji
Sammy Baloji, Untitled, 2006. Digital C-Print. 23.6 x 63.6 in. Images courtesy Museum for African Art.
NEW YORK, NY.- 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 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 Museum for African Art | Sammy Baloji | The Beautiful Time in Lubumbashi |


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