35th Bienal de São Paulo
6 Set to 10 Dec 2023
Free Admission
35th Bienal de
São Paulo
6 Set to 10 Dec
Track 12

Sammy Baloji

Sammy Baloji was born in 1978 in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo. He currently lives and works between Lubumbashi and Brussels, the capital of Belgium. The commutes between the two countries are a good starting point for delving into his artistic universe. “Since 2005, Baloji has been exploring the memory and history of the Democratic Republic of Congo. His work is an ongoing survey of the cultural, architectural and industrial heritage of the Katanga region, as well as questioning the impact of Belgian colonization.”

For this Bienal, Baloji is presenting an installation called The art nouveau forest of Hobé and its lines of color, from 2021; a set of three bronze sculptures entitled Copper Negative of Luxury Cloth, Kongo People, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo or Angola, 17-18th Century, from 2020; and a video, the title of which is Tales of the Copper Cross Garden, Episode 1, from 2017.

In this track we’ll learn more about the installation Hobé’s art nouveau forest and its lines of color. As Marco Baravalle says in this Bienal’s catalog, “130 years ago, the Hotel Tassel was completed in Brussels, Belgium. Thus was born art nouveau, a style that celebrated modernity and its ruling class, the industrial bourgeoisie, which had amassed enormous wealth by intertwining its destiny with that of the colonies. Similar patterns, in fact, were integrated into the design of the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, not to mention the architecture and objects generally made with materials from the Congolese colony: copper, ivory and wood. Baloji emphasizes this connection between the floral style of art nouveau and colonial expropriation. In addition, the colors chosen by the artist were the same that the writer and historian W.E.B. Dubois used for the diagrams shown in Exhibit of American Negroes during the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris. This choice, according to Baloji, alludes to the intention of ‘confusing the ethnographic reading that one might have of these works by emphasizing the modern aspect of these ancient practices’. The colonial archive is explored in order to break the Western monopoly on modernity”.

The installation is a composition of four light-colored wooden panels with seven canvases made with acrylic paint. Each of the panels has a different size and shape, and is supported by a kind of wooden tripod, also in a light shade. The panels have delicate ornaments carved into the wood, in an art nouveau style. Each one has a kind of hollow cut-out where one of the canvases is positioned. It’s as if the panels were a kind of frame for the canvases, protruding slightly more than the canvases. They seem to interact with the canvases through the shapes carved into the wood that make them up, sometimes overlapping the canvases. They, in turn, have patterns inspired by the Congolese textile tradition.

The first composition is made up of one of the panels, with reliefs that simulate an art nouveau façade, and three canvases. The first is in the center of the panel, in a horizontal format. It is made up of black lines on a white background, forming different patterns. These patterns play with perspective. Squares predominate, one inside the other, as if they were coming out of the background and reaching us.

To the right and left of this screen are the other two. They have the shape of a rectangle, but no right angles, and are positioned vertically. Both are made with thick lines, painted in shades of yellow or pink, on a white background. Above them are iconographic elements, also made by tracing thick lines, but in colors such as green and blue. They look like arrows and transverse lines.

The second composition is made up of two canvases, one just below the other, on another panel. Both are also made with straight, thick lines colored blue, black, red and yellow. The different directions of the lines draw patterns typical of the Congolese textile tradition.

In the third, the wooden panel is combined with a single large canvas. Arabesques carved into the wood of the panel invade the canvas. It, in turn, is filled with thick vertical lines in black and white, interspersed. Above these lines are some iconographic elements in the form of arrows or transverse lines, all filled with yellow and black stripes.

In the latter, two panels, each with a colored canvas, form a diptych. The panels have arabesque carvings at the top. On the canvas on the right, thick lines in black, red and gray overlap in different directions, forming patterns of lozenges, transverse lines and other more subjective patterns. On the canvas on the left, the thick lines follow the same pattern and are colored green, black and grey. They create similar shapes to the other canvases, but they are never exactly the same – something always escapes, creating spaces for innovation.