Sammy Baloji, KOLWEZI
2006, the first democratic elections take place in the Congo. The same year, we note a strong demand for copper and cobalt. Several international investors make a rush for Katanga. Among them, China promises to restore Congolese infrastructure in exchange for the exploitation of Katanga’s mineral resources. Following on from the Memory series (2004-6) about Gécamines, the state mining company, since 2009 I have been documenting artisanal mining in Kolwezi, in Katanga. This form of mining appeared after Gécamines’ collapse and, supported by the government, has become vital for all Congolese: former workers, their families, unemployed students, those who fled the war…
Because of economic and territorial instability, miners live in tarpaulin shantytowns near the mining zones. These living spaces and ‘mines’ are temporary and they can suddenly become the property of industrialists when contracts are signed between the state and investors.
The extraction takes place in mining sites once bored by industrial machines. These pits can be more than 100 metres deep. Armed with spades, lamps and raffia sacks, the miners go down looking for heterogenite (a material containing copper and cobalt). To extract it, they must excavate tunnels 60 to 100 metres deep before reaching the seam (the layer of earth containing the heterogenite). After which, they climb back up to the surface, carrying loads of more than 50 kilos. The miners are frequently victims of cave-ins, but these loses don’t stop the march towards gold.
In the shantytowns, I was often struck by the presence of Chinese posters decorating the interior facades of bars, hotels, houses and hairdressers. These posters and montages feature large Western or Asian cities. A kind of Congo of tomorrow. Hence I integrate these posters in my work like a utopian extension of a future springing up from the artisanal mining, exporting of minerals and the continual displacement of populations.
Artist presented by John Fleetwood for the Discovery Award.
Exhibition venue: Atelier de Mécanique, Parc des Ateliers, Rencontres d’Arles 2012.