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The Beautiful Time: Photography by Sammy Baloji
The Beautiful Time presents 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).
In the middle of the twentieth century, the Katanga Province in southeastern DRC, was one of the most productive mining complexes in Africa and the world’s second largest producer of copper. Today, daily life in Lubumbashi is affected by the paradox between the halting, undependable copper production and the physical presence of once-lucrative mines, which loom large in historical memory. Recollections of this mid-century period as “the beautiful time” provoke the artist’s explorations.
The Beautiful Time features Baloji’s portraits of out-of-use machinery and landscapes of the run-down mining infrastructure. His photomontages strikingly combine archival pictures of mine workers and colonial administrators with the artist’s photographs of present-day Lubumbashi. The juxtaposition of black and white archival images of workers and jarring color portraits of today’s decayed mines highlights the mingling of past and present in the contemporary Lubumbashi cityscape. Together, the photographs and photomontages offer a unique perspective on a hundred years of the DRC’s history.
Bogumil Jewsiewicki, professor of history at Université Laval, Québec, describes the history of copper mining in Lubumbashi, and the significance of Baloji’s photographs in the DRC. For Baloji and others of his generation, who were born after DRC’s independence in 1960, the colonial period (1908-1960) was 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’s work aims to understand and reconnect two strikingly different eras. The Beautiful Time initiates an important dialogue about postcolonial history, urbanization, and the aspirations of youth in twenty-first-century Africa.
The Beautiful Time accompanies an exhibition organized by the Museum for African Art.
Published by the Museum for African Art, New York, 2010. 48 pp.
ISBN: 978-0945802-55-6. LCCN: 2009942499.