Sammy Baloji’s artistic practice centres around photography, archive materials and, recently, sculptural pieces. His works are informed by the colonial realities of and scars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he was born and raised. Baloji’s work reflects the complexities of a country that is known to be one of the richest countries in the world, when it comes to its resources, but heavily exploited for hundreds of years.
For An Age of Our Own Making, Sammy Baloji shows his well-known and highly acclaimed Memoires series from 2006. Presented as oversized billboard images, the photographic montage work narrates the clash of the Congo-Belgian colonial relations from the past and present. By juxtaposing archive materials of both Congolese and Belgian peoples with current images of the ruins of colonial mines, industrial landscapes, Baloji seems to point, on the one hand, a finger at the winners and losers of the colonial enterprise, and on the other hand, to construct a photographic monument that bears witness of the economic, socio-political and environmental legacy of colonialism.
By collaging the past and present, Baloji offers historic, economic, cultural and social narratives, not only about the Congo, but Africa at large.
Sammy Baloji also presents a new billboard work, Frise Obus. At first glance, one recognises a range of flower vases, but soon realises that the vases are actually appropriated bombshells. In the shells, which have been from Congolese copper and been used during World War I and II, grow plants found in Congo. What might come across as a bad fiction is indeed a narrative of how wastes from war have been used in the daily lives of families in Belgium and across Europe.
In this work Baloji investigates the destructive and lifegiving values of the bombshells, respectively, and at the same time points out the impossibility of world wars were it not for the exploitation of human and natural resources from the Congo.
Sammy Baloji has exhibited extensively in institutions such as Musée du quai Branly, Paris; Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren; Museum for African Art, NY and at WIELS, Contemporary Art Center Brussels. Baloji has been part of numerous group exhibitions and biennials such as “la vie modern” 13th Biennale de Lyon, “All the World’s Future’s” 56th Venice Biennale, and “Personne et les autres”, Belgian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
He was recipient of the 2014 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative award, partnering with Olafur Eliasson, he received the Prince Claus Award in 2008, and two awards at African Photography Biennial in Bamako, Mali in 2007.