Sammy Baloji´s practice explores how our colonial history is interwoven with the current exploitation of people, raw materials and land. The starting point for this work is several kilometres away, where ´The Horse Market´, a munition dump from the First World War, lies at the bottom of the sea. By analogy with the chemical shells that were dumped under water and constitute an ecological threat, our memory of the role of the DRC during both World Wars also sank into the depths of Belgian memory. Congo was indispensable for the Belgian army, as a reservoir for soldiers and copper.
… and to those North Sea waves whispering sunken stories incorporates an audio witness from the past: Albert Kudjabo, a Congolese soldier, who volunteered to fight in 1914 in Belgium, together with 31 other Congolese soldiers. He was deported as a prisoner of war to Berlin, where he became an object of study due to his origin. The German sound recording of Kudjabo offers a Congolese voice which represents the presence of Congolese volunteers in the Belgian army. It also attests to the oppression by the colonial police force Force Publique in Congo, and the fact that Congolese workers were used as slaves for the extraction of minerals in service of the war effort.
This shadow history is crystallised in Baloji´s sculptures. The forms derive from scientific drawings of minerals, made to map out the extraction in Congo. Baloji refers at the same time to the Wardian Case, a glass container used for transporting exotic plants by sea. Through this global mass export of crops, new economies developed and natural processes were manipulated. This process of displacement and subjection is part of what led to the current climate crisis.
The Wardian Case encloses, just like ´The Horse Market´, traces from a decisive moment in the past that still reverberate. … and to those North Sea waves whispering sunken stories exposes the colonial side of the war and the violent heritage of extraction in Congo. A heritage that today is disrupting the global society, unbalancing ecosystems and maintaining an unequal world market.
In cooperation with In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres.