The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, announced the selection of the 2017 Robert Gardner Fellow in Photography. Following an international search, the Gardner Fellowship committee awarded the Fellowship to photographer Sammy Baloji (D.R. Congo).
The Fellowship carries a $50,000 stipend to begin or complete a proposed project followed by the publication of a book. “Sammy Baloji’s visually and intellectually arresting work highlights and creates essential links between the past and the present, colonial and post-colonial histories with resonance well beyond the Congo,” said Peabody Museum Curator of Visual Anthropology Ilisa Barbash.The Museum is especially excited by his repertoire and combinations of media—from original photography to archival photographs and documents, from relief to sculpture, from compositions of individual artifacts to collage.
Sammy Baloji (*1978) was born and raised in Lubumbashi, in the contested and mineral-rich Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly the Belgian Congo and Zaire). Sammy’s work juxtaposes architecture, industrial ruins, and vast slag heaps with images of the people—workers, villagers, urbanites—to explore identity, social history, and memory. According to Fariba Derakhshani of the Prince Clause Fund, Baloji’s “… work is unusual and outstanding for its profound engagement with his people, their history, and their humanity. This personal involvement is perfectly balanced and contained by his sensitive eye and his commitment to critical intellectual enquiry.”
Baloji’s Mémoire [Memory] (2004–06) comprised a series of highly charged photomontages that juxtaposed archival images of workers with subtly colored panoramas of today’s mining wasteland, challenging historical dogmas on colonization in Katanga Province. Kolwezi (2009–11) explored the impact of the ongoing post-colonial exploitation of the mineral resources of the DRC. Essay on Urban Planning, (2013) exhibited at the Venice Biennial (2015), is a stunning depiction of the human condition in its modern iterations, concerns extended in the exhibition Urban Now: City Life in Congo (2016)—currently at the Open Society Foundations in New York City. Urban Now, a collaboration with anthropologist Filip De Boeck, explores the city of Kinshasa, in the DRC “suspended between the broken dreams of a colonial past and the promises of neoliberal futures.”
For his Fellowship year, Sammy will focus on the Gendarmes Katangais, a rebel resistance group from the copper-rich Katanga province of DRC. The Katangese Gendarmes have influenced political landscapes in Central Africa since the Cold War and are likely to continue to do so.
Defeated in their battle for the succession of Katanga from Congo/Zaire during the 1960s, the Katangese Gendarmes based themselves in neighboring Angola among communities that shared their mostly Lunda ethnicity. In precolonial times, a Lunda kingdom had ruled this cross-border region. The Katangese Gendarmes mobilized Lunda unity during the 1970s and, aided by Angolan forces, staged two insurgent wars against Zaire, ruled by President Mobutu. Mobutu, claiming the rebels were backed by Cuba and the USSR, enlisted aid from the US, France, and China, and defeated the rebels. During the 1990s, the Katangese Gendarmes joined Laurent Kabila’s successful overthrow of Mobutu, but many became disillusioned with Kabila’s rule and eventually returned to Angola, where today they struggle to maintain their identity and still dream of a return “home” to Katanga. In this new project Sammy will continue his collaboration with anthropologist and Lunda expert, Filip De Boeck, and his use of archival resources in his photographic processes.
Sammy Baloji lives and works in Lubumbashi, DRC and Brussels, Belgium. Baloji has had solo exhibitions at: Musée du quai Branly, Paris; MuZee, Oostende, Belgium; Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren; and Museum for African Art, New York. His solo show that opened in May at WIELS, Contemporary Art Center Brussels titled Sammy Baloji & Filip De Boeck — Urban Now: City Life in Congo, is currently showing at the Open Society Foundation, New York. Widely collected, Baloji has been featured in numerous group exhibitions worldwide.
About the Robert Gardner Fellowship in Photography
The Fellowship funds an “established practitioner of the photographic arts to create and subsequently publish through the Peabody Museum a major book of photographs on the human condition anywhere in the world.” The Fellowship committee invites nominations from experts around the world; nominees are reviewed and selected by a committee of four. The Fellowship provides a stipend of $50,000, and is unique in its dedication to funding professional documentary photography.
Former Robert Gardner Fellowship Recipients are:
2007 Guy Tillim (South Africa)
2008 Dayanita Singh (India)
2009 Alessandra Sanguinetti (USA/Argentina)
2010 Stephen Dupont (Australia)
2011 Miki Kratsman (Israel)
2013 Yto Barrada (Morocco/France)
2014 Chloe Dewe Mathews (United Kingdom)
2016 Ilana Boltvinik and Rodrigo Viñas of TRES Art Collective (Mexico)
The Peabody Museum is among the oldest archaeological and ethnographic museums in the world with one of the finest collections of human cultural history found anywhere. It is home to superb materials from Africa, ancient Europe, North America, Mesoamerica, Oceania, and South America in particular. In addition to its archaeological and ethnographic holdings, the Museum’s photographic archives, one of the largest of its kind, hold more than 500,000 historical photographs, dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the present and chronicling anthropology, archaeology, and world culture.