In his artistic work, Sammy Baloji repeatedly addresses the history of mining in and around his native city of Lubumbashi in the south-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He documents how the extractive industries have wreaked extensive destruction on the Katanga region and its social structures, transforming the land into resources and reducing entire societies to a mere pool of potential laborers. He juxtaposes to this harshness the memories, hopes and projects of people who live amidst the ruins of colonialism, industrial mining, and the global capitalist economy. In the exhibition "Unextractable. Sammy Baloji invites" currently on display at the Kunsthalle Mainz, collective forms of artistic production and careful work on transmission in precarious conditions are foregrounded that seek to resist the ongoing toxic impact of economic, ecological, and socio-cultural exploitation.
After co-authoring the groundbreaking report on the restitution of African cultural heritage (with Felwine Sarr, 2018), and her important work on the history of the bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti, art historian Bénédicte Savoy has recently co-published the voluminous edited book Atlas of Absence (2023), documenting the massive rapture of heritage from Cameroon during German colonialism, and the ongoing loss that these artifacts that are kept in German museum storages, leave in Cameroonian communities. The book is the result of a massive collective research conducted collaboratively between Cameroonian and German researchers over several years in an effort to bring together the insights from both contexts. The book seeks to establish new foundations for the discussion of cultural restitution of Cameroonian heritage in German museums.
After introductory presentations by both speakers, the discussion will evolve around questions as how to think about cultural work as reparation? What role can transnational collaboration play in "righting wrongs" (Gayatri Spivak)? How can transmission occur in transformative manners?
The conversation is moderated by Lotte Arndt, Researcher and Curator, "Reconnecting Objects", TU-Berlin/Paris, and takes place in collaboration with the Kunsthalle Mainz, in the frame of the exhibition "Unextractable. Sammy Baloji invites" co-curated by Lotte Arndt, Yasmin Afschar and Marlène Harles. It kicks off the public program “Transmission by Transformation” with the participating artists on 26-27 January 2024, taking place at Kunsthalle Mainz. Please check the website for further information: https://www.kunsthalle-mainz.de/
Sammy Baloji, born 1978 in Lubumbashi (DRC), lives and works in Brussels (B) and Lubumbashi. Sammy Baloji is currently researching memory and transmission in Luba communities in various provinces of Congo. He is interested in contemporary interpretations of pre-colonial forms and objects. For example, the "lukasa", a decorated wooden object used as a tactile memory aid in storytelling. Sammy Baloji refers to this tradition with a monumental sculpture in a public space in Antwerp. In other works, a "kasala" is performed, a ceremonial poem with genealogical elements. Sammy Baloji's work encompasses various media: from photography and collage, to sculpture, installation, new media, spoken word and music. His work condenses complex questions about (post-)colonial history. He uses the archive, the museum and film as prisms to analyze and intervene in these constructs. In doing so, he intertwines them with contemporary discussions about restitution and representation.
Bénédicte Savoy is professor for Modern Art History at the Technische Universität Berlin. From 2016 - 2021, she simultaneously held a professorship at the Collège de France in Paris for the cultural history of artistic heritage in Europe from the 18th to the 20th century. Her research focuses on Museum history, French-German cultural transfer, Nazi looted art, and Postcolonial provenance research. In 2018, she wrote the report "On the Restitution of African Cultural Heritage", together with the Senegalese scholar Felwine Sarr, commissioned by the French President Emmanuel Macron. She has received numerous awards for her research and academic teaching, including the 2016 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation and most recently the Berlin Science Prize. She is a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, a Knight of the French Legion of Honour and a member of various other institutions, advisory boards, and committees. Her most recent publications include the book "Africa’s Struggle for Its Art: History of a Postcolonial Defeat", which has been translated into several languages, and the joint publication "Atlas der Abwesenheit. Kameruns Kulturerbe in Deutschland" (Atlas of Absence. Cameroon's Cultural Heritage in Germany).
Researcher and curator Lotte Arndt (Paris, Berlin) focuses on works of artists who question the postcolonial present and the antinomies of modernity in a transnational perspective. As part of the international project "Reconnecting Objects. Epistemic Plurality and Transformative Practices in and beyond Museums" (Technische Universität Berlin), she is currently conducting research on toxic conservation, chemical modernity and colonial collections. She is co-founder of the online journal "Troubles dans les collections", co-curator of "Unextractable. Sammy Baloji invites" at Kunsthalle Mainz (oct 2023-Feb 2024), and published lately "Poisonous Heritage: Chemical Conservation, Monitored Collections, and the Threshold of Ethnological Museums", Museums & Society, 20 (2), 2022.
Among her previous publications: "Les survivances toxiques des collections coloniales", Troubles dans les collections, no. 2, 2022; "Candice Lin. A Hard White Body" (with Y. Umolu), Chicago University Press, 2019; "Les revues font la culture! Négociations postcoloniales dans les cevues culturelles africaines à Paris", Trier WVT 2016; "Crawling Doubles. Colonial Collecting and Affect" (ed. with M. K. Abonnenc and C. Lozano), B42 2016; "Hunting & Collecting. Sammy Baloji" (ed. with A. Taiaksev) 2016.
The lecture will be held in English.