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…and to those North Sea waves whispering sunken stories

Sammy Baloji

  • main galleries
  • artist in residence

About

Sammy Baloji was born in 1978 in Lubumbashi, Congo, and has lived alternately in Lubumbashi and Brussels since 2006. He explores the memories and history of his native country. His work is an ongoing investigation into the cultural, architectural and industrial heritage of Katanga, but also a questioning of the impact of Belgian colonisation. His video works, installations and photographic series highlight the way identities are formed, transformed, perverted and reinvented. Baloji has previously exhibited at the Musée du Quai Branly, MuZee, the AfricaMuseum and the Grand Palais, among others, and he was part of the Belgian selection for the 2016 Venice Biennale. Recently, a work of his was acquired by the Tate.  

As part of his residency at In Flanders Fields Museum, Sammy Baloji examines the subtle but complex ties between his homeland Congo and its former coloniser Belgium. Through the prism of the First World War, the artist offers a glimpse of how the colony was not only indispensable for Europe's war effort, but also for its claims to global dominance, capitalism and responsibility for the current climate crisis. The installation at In Flanders Fields Museum consists of image, sculpture and sound, and juxtaposes divergent visions - aerial and horizontal, Western and indigenous - in an attempt to explore what connects them. While images reveal man's impact on nature, from trenches over shell and mine craters to wounded trees, the artist invites his audience to reflect on the current era with its roots in imperialism and colonialism. Central to the installation is a greenhouse, a modern variant of the 'Wardian case' with which live planting materials were transported to Europe in the colonial period. For Sammy Baloji, it is a metaphor for the way in which men from the colonies were deployed in the war in Europe. One of them was Albert Kudjabo, a Congolese who spent four years in German captivity. We hear him on a sound recording made by German scientists in March 1917. 

The residency at In Flanders Fields Museum is part of a broader project in which Sammy Baloji reflects on the First World War. Within the framework of the exhibition Congoville in Antwerp’s Middelheim Museum (29 May - 3 October 2021), he has re-created an installation in which engraved shell casings from the First World War are filled with plants from Congo.

An echo of the Ypres installation has been created by Sammy Baloji for the Beaufort 21 Triennial: in front of the former Palace Hotel in Zeebrugge there is also a closed greenhouse. The place is not accidental: not only did the building house the German troops that guarded the port of Zeebrugge during the First World War, but after the war it offered lodging to British tourists on their way to Ypres. And a few kilometres further down in the sea, on the sandbank De Paardenmarkt, dozens of tons of chemical ammunition from that same war rested. The copper of those shells often came from... Congo. In Flanders Fields Museum therefore closely cooperates with Beaufort 21 for this residence.  

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