Sammy Baloji lives and works in Brussels, BE, and Lubumbashi, CD

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Sammy Baloji, …and to those North Sea Waves Whispering Sunken Stories (II), 2021, metal and glass terrarium containing various tropical plants, potting soil, clay pebbles, sound, 230 x 273 x 307 cm, installation view, In Flanders Fields Museum, Ieper, 2021, photo: Birger Stichelbau © Sammy Baloji

At the beginning of World War I, thirty-two Congolese immigrants in Belgium volunteered to fight in the Belgian army. Among them was Albert Kudjabo, who was captured in August 1914 and spent the rest of the war at a prison camp in Münster. There, he was forced to participate in an archive project of the state-funded Royal Prussian Phonographic Commission, which made acoustic recordings of African prisoners of war. The recording of Kudjabo drumming and singing, which forms part of Sammy Baloji’s installation …and to those North Sea waves whispering sunken stories (II) (2021) has been stored in the Sound Archives of Humboldt University in Berlin. Kudjabo is anonymously credited there, using a racist term, in a convergence of the violence of war and that of the colonial archive.

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Sammy Baloji, …and to those North Sea Waves Whispering Sunken Stories (II), 2021, metal and glass terrarium containing various tropical plants, potting soil, clay pebbles, sound, 230 x 273 x 307 cm, installation view, In Flanders Fields Museum, Ieper, 2021, photo: Birger Stichelbau © Sammy Baloji

How history is constructed—what is remembered and what is omitted—is an important thread that runs through Baloji’s work. The artist revisits histories of extraction and displacement, allowing silenced voices to finally be heard. In this work, Baloji parallels Kudjabo’s story with the Wardian case, a glass container that transported plants on English ships. It marked a clear beginning of the domestication of plants, the expansion of British imperialism, and a global decline in biodiversity. Baloji’s Wardian case alludes to Congolese displacement: it houses plants native to Congo and takes the form of a crystal, referencing the minerals extracted in Congo that have shaped the country’s past and present. The title of the piece refers to remnants of war—shipwrecks and large quantities of unexploded ammunition—that can still be found at the bottom of the North Sea. An analogy to colonial history, their presence becomes clear once their unresolved toxicity begins to surface and influence the present.

Heidi Ballet

Exhibitions

… and to those North Sea waves whispering sunken stories, 2021, In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres (BE) (solo)

Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2020: In our Veins Flow Ink and Fire, 2020, Kochi (IN)

Notre Monde Brûle, 2020, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (FR)

Sammy Baloji, 2020, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C. (US) (solo)

Other Tales, 2020, Lunds konsthall, Lund (SE) (solo)