Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Beautiful Time: Photography by Sammy Baloji

Where: Natural History Museum

When: through January 6, 2013

Sometimes I wonder why exhibits end up in one museum rather than another.  This show, of photographs by the Congolese artist Sammy Baloji, could have been shown in the African Art Museum, but instead are here in Natural History.  Perhaps it's because the subject is the mines in the Congo?  I'm not sure, but I'd love to know more about how venues are chosen.

In the 1950s, there was a successful copper mining industry, which brought prosperity to what is now the Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  In 1960, the country gained its independence from their colonial rulers, but corrupt governments and mismanagement have led the industry to ruin and the local people's fortunes have fallen with the industry's.

Baloji takes old photographs of Congolese workers and the colonial managers, and superimposes them on current photographs of the area.  The juxtaposition of former wealth and prosperity with current desolation is both a very clever artistic technique and a quite sad commentary on current events.  Kudos to Baloji for his talent, and sympathy to the poor people, who now have very little in the way of industry.

Verdict: An unexpected show at Natural History and well worth a look - it's small and easily managed in a lunch hour.

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