Sammy Baloji, 42 years old, born in Lubumbashi, DRC, is a major figure in the international contemporary art scene. He recently returned from his first exhibition at the Academy of Fine Arts which took place in Paris, in June 2021. Hamaji Magazine met him in in his home town..

HM: Your first exhibition took place at the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris, how did it happen ?
It was a combination of several events. I had already received an invitation from the Artistic Director of the Autumn Festival, which revolves around live performances, cinema, exhibitions, etc., of which the Academy of Fine Arts is a partner. On the other hand, I worked with its director in a collective exhibition “Durama” at the Palais de Tokyo, who found that this fall festival was a good window to present my exhibition. It coincided with President Macron’s Africa 20-20 program.

In your work, you question history and science…
I was interested in working on the period of the first modernity located during the meetings between the West and Africa in the fifteenth century and find traces of these exchanges in the contemporary landscape. Speaking of the Kongo Kingdom, there is a social, economic, artistic organisation, cultural production, etc.. My work challenges the whole history of art as it is known today.

The Biennial has been postponed to 2022, what about today ?
This will be the first one where several curators will work with Picha. Since 2017, we have a workshop to accompany local artists. These artists can meet with art professionals, together they will participate in an exhibition. Art is important for our society, it is a space for reflection, imagination, criticism.

Does your career lean towards an academic perspective ?
I think that in the face of the sciences, which have been offensive to local knowledge, it is also necessary to propose a scientific approach to assert a history of African art, to bring together colonial and pre-colonial knowledge.

A last word ?
We are experiencing a lot of emulation, whether it is in relation to questions of restitution, the decolonisation of knowledge, the representation of minorities, and perpetual questioning whether it is the State, artists, writers and other fields. We must wrest our place on the world cultural space.

Interview by Iragi Elisha for Hamaji Magazine