Lubumbashi’s 7th Biennale meets art with toxicity in the city

In Swahili, one of the four national languages ​​of the DRC (along with Kikongo, Lingala and Tshiluba) bastard means picture. It is the name chosen in 2008 to designate both the association established that year by a collective of local artists and the Encounters of the same name, which has now become the Lubumbashi Biennale. An initiative born from Lubumbashi’s need to multiply spaces for creativity, exchange and even artistic confrontations within and beyond the urban environment. The Picha association was therefore created by independent artists engaged in the promotion of artistic creativity. In addition to the Biennale, this association organizes exhibitions, photo and video seminars, trainings, artist residencies… The aim is to contribute to the development of artists and their national and international recognition.

(Re)see: “Excerpt from interview with Jean-Sylvain Tshilumba Mukendi”

It is certainly an opportunity to draw attention to Lubumbashi, which is also the second largest city in the DRC and above all the industrial center of the mining region in the south-east of the country. According to historians, it was known that this region was rich in copper from the 3rd century AD to the beginning of the 20th century.c In the 19th century, the local population, which had always used this mineral, was driven out in favor of European companies, especially Belgian companies.

In 1910, the Belgian colonial authorities established the city as a copper mining colony. Over time, mining companies in the region established their headquarters in Lubumbashi, which became a shipping center for minerals such as cobalt, zinc, cadmium, germanium, tin, manganese, and even coal. , from neighboring cities. After independence, mining was dominated by La Gécamines, a public company.

This importance of the mining industry in the region explains the biennale’s choice to ask questions. “Toxicity as a condition of existence that inextricably affects social worlds. » As the organizers of the Biennale point out, that’s about it “Reflecting on the relationship between contemporary life in the postcolonial urban environment of Lubumbashi and the cities of the Global South more broadly, and the influence of a range of industrial, economic, ecological, social and cultural processes that have historically contributed, and worse, to the shape of urban life in this region and elsewhere in the world today.” and dynamics.”

TV5MONDE: This year, the biennale has 5 assistant curators and curatorial advisors from different backgrounds and countries. Why such a choice?

Jean-Sylvain Tshilumba Mukendi: Although the Picha collective remains the primary curator of this publication, it was important to relate this reflection on toxicity to multiple viewpoints, places, and experiences. Which is indeed the general theme of this 7th edition Toxicityextractive economy, pollution, imaginary or collective unconscious, etc.

(Re)watch: “Beware of toxic masks”

The association wanted to surround itself with associate curators and a curatorial consultant to broaden the thinking about the theme and essence of such an event, which is constantly reinventing and rethinking itself. It is also about the timely registration of collaborations and projects initiated within the framework of this biennial and at the same time considering the form of continuity with the related curators who are the real partner, the baton. Note that most of them have already been to Lubumbashi and have a real interest or bias in the issues addressed through this publication.

TV5MONDE: Does the choice of toxicity as the theme of this 7th edition respond to environmental concerns that are so important today?

Jean-Sylvain Tshilumba Mukendi: This year’s choice of theme quickly became clear. Of course, this reflects a direct environmental statement, but not only. Toxicity as a starting point is a suggestion by one of Picha’s members, the anthropologist Philip De Boeck.

Proximity to mining sites and their negative impact on local communities does not improve.

Jean-Sylvain Tshilumba Mukend, Picha association

This theme invites thinking about toxicity in various aspects: the toxicity of the air and environment in Lubumbashi as a result of the massive, abusive mining and extractive industry; toxicity in social and domestic relationships; toxic survivors in museum collections, etc. Therefore, this topic is not only ecological.

TV5MONDE: In Lubumbashi, a city of more than 2.5 million people, mining sites are adjacent to homes, plantations and even schools. However, mining companies do not always apply enhanced obligations to respect the environment. Is the situation developing in the right direction according to this plan? Can art help things happen?

Jean-Sylvain Tshilumba Mukendi: Proximity to mining sites and their negative impact on local communities does not improve. The growing demand for natural resources and various metals (copper, cobalt, lithium, etc.) opens the lands of Katangese, the main task is to meet the demand. If environmental obligations are to be strengthened, the excesses in the mining sector remain significant: child labor, precarious work in mines, artisanal and illegal trade…

(Re)watch: “Recycled labware contaminates soil and water”

This is how extraction takes place in conditions with little respect for the local population. It is proven by the results of the soil analysis conducted within the project ex-situ by artist Luigi Coppola, even the quality of certain waters or air has irreparable health consequences. This project is an example of how art can make things happen.

Installation of flags of the Ex-Situ project by Luigi Coppola at the Institute of Fine Arts in Lubumbashi.

Investigating phytoremediation, i.e. the remediation of contaminated soils using specific plants, Luigi Coppola, relying on a local research network, activates common solutions by sharing knowledge through his proposed artistic interventions. In addition to being a space for reflection and engagement, art becomes a vector of new perspectives and potentially solutions when combined with other scientific disciplines.

TV5MONDE: The theme chosen this year was to open a collective elaboration of a critical and transformative vision of the social and cultural environment in Lubumbashi and the world. How to meet such a problem?

Jean-Sylvain Tshilumba Mukendi: The development of critical, creative and transformative collective momentum does not happen overnight and is an absolute necessity for the African continent. Here in Lubumbashi, the Biennale aims to be a springboard for the creation of new dreams that seek to overcome this state of toxicity and divide minds locked in inherited, biased and counterproductive thought mechanisms.

The development of such a speed is obvious to the minority, awake public. This remains a real challenge that the Biennale seeks to gradually address by integrating and disseminating its projects and productions at the heart of these issues. This is already demonstrated by photographer Gloire Ndoko’s exhibition at the Mzee Health Center or even the activation of the Biasasa art center in Katuba (a remote and working-class district of Lubumbashi).

To be part of a real collective impulse that necessarily involves dialogue, this edition of the Biennale bet on a program called Palabres. This program consists of a platform for conversation, information, confrontation and exchange on the issues and questions raised within the framework of the Lubumbashi Biennale. After the end of the Biennale, this program will continue its activities.

TV5MONDE: How do you rate this 7th edition?

Jean-Sylvain Tshilumba Mukendi: This is 7c publication was successful. Despite the fragile and uncertain context for the development of the arts, the program that is difficult to stop and the sometimes uncertain or rushed implementation, this edition reminded us that the continuation of this biannual event in Lubumbashi remains promising. . At a time when the future of this model of artistic expression is in question, we are delighted to be able to rely on and collaborate with the actors of Lush to realize the publication; from communications to manufacturing, including logistics and technology.

Congolese artist Godelive Kasangati in front of the installation Mbwa (2022) at the French Institute.

In its organization as well as in its presentation (about 70% of the 62 artists are Congolese artists), this Biennale is the fruit of Congolese efforts, with the promotion, restoration and program of existing projects. Picha workshops (continuous art education system). Expert suggestions complement these efforts, producing a dense publication that provides an excellent basis for continuing to think about toxicity.

This Biennale also enabled meetings and stimulated exchanges at the local and institutional level, especially with the various departments of the University of Lubumbashi, as well as local authorities. There are many lessons. But the energy coming out of this 7 in recent weeksc publication reinforces the idea that Lubumbashi is an important entry point for understanding the world and what binds us (literally and figuratively) and deserves consideration.

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