SAMMY BALOJI, *1978 Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, lives and works in Lubumbashi and Brussels, Belgium
LAZARA ROSELL ALBEAR, * 1971 in Havana, Cuba, lives and work in Brussels, Belgium
Baloji studied literature and human sciences at the University of Lubumbashi. After his studies, he first worked as a cartoonist before turning to photography and video art. He is interested in his country’s history and culture of remembrance, and seeks contemporary African identities in his works. He links the colonial past of Congo with the present, repeatedly addressing themes such as the perpetuation of imperial power relations and social structures, as well as architecture and urbanism.
Baloji’s works have been on display in his hometown, in Brussels, at the Bamako Biennale (Mali), the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, and the Cup Biennale (South Africa). In 2008 he founded the society PICHA! (Swahili for “picture”) in Lubumbashi. In one of its first projects, residents and contemporary photographers deal with the local history based on historical photographs.
The Cuban-Belgian artist Lazara Rosell Albear appears as a dancer and performer, drummer, filmmaker and poetess. Based on research, she produces cross-media projects, events and films. Rosell Albear received her Master’s degree in audiovisual art at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium. Her works have been shown at various festivals in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, Argentina, Chile, Cuba, and Iceland.
“Ou t’es-tu perdu, mon pareil / En quel coin de la planisphère… / Je n’ai pas de doute, mon miroir / Me renseignera sur ton vouloir / D’encore divaguer sur cette terre.”
(Where are you, my similitude / In which corner of the planisphere…/ I have no doubt, my mirror / Share your wish with me / to roam about the earth.)
Monique Mbeka Phoba, fragment from the collection of poems ‘Yemadja’
Bare-Faced was created in 2011 as a collaboration between Sammy Baloji and Lazara Rosell Albear for TRANCEMEDIAMIX 2 in Brussels. The two searched for a common personal history and followed Congo’s central African culture to Cuba on the tracks of inherited religious practices, in which trance plays an important role. The work breaks open ossified cultural attributions made during the long history of racist constructions.
Bare-Faced is an installation, documentation, concert, and performance. The video work is based on a performance that similar to a boxing match is divided into six rounds and makes numerous references to other works by Baloji. In an interview, Maarten Couttenier, anthropologist and historian at the Royal Museum for Central Africa Tervuren, Belgium, first speaks about the absence of the history of King Lusinga in the permanent exhibition, a chief who was beheaded by the colonizers. His skull was brought to Belgium as a trophy on behalf of Leopold II and is today included in the collection of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. In an earlier work, Baloji had taken photographs of the skull in the style of 19th-century anthropological (race-theoretical) measurements. In further rounds, Rosell Albear’s body becomes the projection screen for colonial images, her mother talks about the Afro-Cuban religious practices of her grandparents, a male voice relates racist experiences in Brazil and the attempt of Afro-Brazilians to grasp their blackness with new terms.