Focus on the Collection: Sammy Baloji
Discover works recently acquired by the Canadian Photography Institute
Congolese photographer Sammy Baloji (1978–) addresses the topics of land and cities in his work. Born eighteen years after his country gained independence from Belgium, Baloji attempts to better understand what his generation has inherited from its colonial past. Through his photographs, he builds a rich and complex narrative exploring colonization, its history, and its continuing impact upon his homeland’s culture.
Katanga, the province in which Bajoli was born, is rich in mineral deposits, including copper, cobalt, and uranium. Exploited by outside interests for more than a century, mines are a core element in the narratives of Baloji’s Mémoire series (2006). In this panoramic view, he has used Photoshop to create a typical scene. Against a backdrop dominated by technology, a White boss gives orders to Black workers, implying the invasive impact of mining activities on the land and control of its people.
Essay on Urban Planning (2013) is composed of a grid of twelve colour prints, and a small historical photograph depicting two boys next to a pile of dead flies. The latter refers to the struggle against flies and, more specifically, a practice that required workers to capture and kill fifty flies a day in order to receive their rations. Six images in the grid feature aerial views of Lubumbashi and the cleared strip of “no man’s land” that divided the White colonial population from the Black population. This strip — measuring at least 500 metres in width — served as a sort of "cordon sanitaire," preventing the spread of malarial mosquitoes. The other six images depict flies and mosquitoes, photographed from specimens in the National Museum of Lubumbashi.
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Sammy Baloji (Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1978–), is the son of parents who came from Congo’s Kasai province, a high-conflict zone on the country’s border with Angola. He studied at the Université de Lubumbashi, obtaining a degree in Computer Science and Communication, followed by a second degree in video and photography from the École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Strasbourg, France. He discovered photography when he borrowed a camera to capture scenes to make his cartoons. He is also a sculptor, working with materials, such as copper, that are related to the economy of Lubumbashi, where he was born.
 Johan Legae, Sofie Boonen & Maarten Liefooghe, "Fissure dans le cordon sanitaire. Architecture hospitalière et ségrégation urbaine à Lubumbashi, 1920-1960", in Maurice Amuri Mpala-Lutebele (dir.), Lubumbashi, cent ans d'histoire, Paris : L'Harmattan, coll. Comptes rendus, 2013, p.247-262.