A solo exhibition featuring new work by artist Sammy Baloji (b. 1978, Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo). Curated by Vincent van Velsen, with scenography by Jean Christophe Lanquetin.
A Blueprint for Toads and Snakes presents the work of esteemed artist Sammy Baloji, whose practice deals with the cultural, social, architectural and industrial heritage of his home country the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). From a background in photography, Baloji employs a research-based practice in which archival material, museological objects and cultural artefacts inform his work. He critically looks at the connections between the past of Western colonialism, the subsequent post-colonial disillusionment, and the continuing imperial aftermath.
The exhibition features several new works by Sammy Baloji. Central to these new pieces is Chura na Nyoka (‘The Toad and the Snake’), a theatre play commissioned by the Belgian colonial regime and written in 1957 by the Congolese Joseph Kiwele. The play, which holds a metaphorical message of ethnic segregation, was meant as an ‘educational tool’ to influence Congolese culture. Baloji relates Kiwele’s theatre script to the colonial urban planning of the 'indigenous city' of Lubumbashi, which was also structured according to the politics of segregation. The consequences of these colonial politics can still be viewed and felt in the contemporary Congolese urban and political landscape.
Another work presented by Sammy Baloji is the documenta 14 film Tales of the Copper Cross Garden. Episode 1 (2017) in which the processing of copper is visualised as a choreography of black workers’ bodies, while they transform raw material into a product for the global market. The visuals are accompanied by a soundtrack consisting of ecclesiastical music, which was also composed by Kiwele and commissioned by the colonial powers. The film can be understood as a metaphor for the colonial endeavour, in which the Congolese population was moulded into a workforce; and shows the ways in which the church played a pivotal role in reshaping Congolese society.
In A Blueprint for Toads and Snakes, Sammy Baloji presents a highly original commemoration of the painful history of exploitation and cultural formation in Congo. In this way the exhibition offers a critical reflection on the ways in which mineral extraction, and the imposition of cultural structures, have a lasting impact on contemporary life in Congo: the foundations of the metaphorical stage on which the present is taking shape.