Congo in Conversation chronicles important stories from the country’s rising reportage photographers

The recently published monogram features 35 reportages and 15 photographers’ work over a climactic six months as the pandemic hit the Democratic Republic of Congo.

16 December 2020

Congo in Conversation is a collaborative online chronicle bringing together Congolese journalists and photographers. Awarded the 11th Carmignac Photojournalism Award, the reportage project started to document the Central African country starting in January of this year, just before the worldwide Coronavirus outbreak hit the country. Addressing a number of issues including the Congo’s social and ecological challenges in 2020, the platform provides an uninterrupted stream of information in the form of articles, photo reportages and videos. A project initially established by photojournalist Finbarr O’Reilly – who has over 20 years of experience in the medium – the monogram, which we’ll be delving into today features the work of Arlette Bashizi, Dieudonne Dirole, Charly Kasereka, Justin Makangara, Guylain Balume Muhindo, Guerchom Ndebo, Raissa Karama Rwizibuka, Moses Sawasawa, Pamela Tulizo, Ley Uwera and Bernadette Vivuya.

On this significant body of work, Finbarr tells us: “It is really about looking at ways to show the story of Congo from the perspective of Congolese photographers”. And with that in mind, Arlette Bashizi and Dieudonne Dirole tells It’s Nice That about their respective stories. Arlette, currently based in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in the east, has been a photographer for the past two years or so. Social life is the primary theme of her work, she explains, “aiming to share a positive image of my community, a positive image of Congo”.

Participating in Congo in Conversation allowed her to extend and share her work with a wider audience, not to mention gain more experience. The project shines a light on many young Congolese people and Arlette wanted to document their stories in an authentic way, true to their experience. “It’s the best way to get to know someone, to get to know a people,” she says on the matter, “to let a community share its own story.” Through her evocative photography, Arlette reveals how the virus was first dealt with in Goma. In the beginning, like most of the world, “we were in the dark,” she says. The outbreak took hold of the country not long after Ebola and similarly to that situation, schools and churches quickly closed. The photographer’s first report documents this and in particular, how children dealt with it.

She also reported on misinformation regarding the virus. As the pandemic descended, the youth of Goma banded together to raise awareness on Covid, sharing necessary information however they could. It culminated in a new collective of young artists, humanitarians, bankers and more known as Goma Actif, a group of young people coming together putting preventive measures in place. Elsewhere in Arlette’s work, she captures the water crises that took hold of the city, working with Moses Sawasawa and Charly Kesereka to combat the situation.

GalleryCongo in Conversation (Copyright © Congo in Conversation, 2020)

The photos in the monogram are undoubtedly striking, imparting the viewer with a visceral sense of what the country was going through. While Arlette photographed the situation in Goma, Dieudonne Dirole, a photographer living in the town of Bunia in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo, started to document life around him. Having taken up the medium back in 2015 when, as he puts it, “my country was experiencing serious human rights violations,” Dieudonne crafted an artistic speciality focusing on the quirks of daily life imbued with the politics of the day. In time, he received two scholarships to further his photographic studies, and along the way, he was arrested and threatened several times by the authorities; a failed attempt to stop Dieudonne from photographing what was going on around him.

For the monogram, Dieudonne reported on the insecurities in the eastern part of the country, the photographer adds, “including the incursion of the Lendu ethnic militia into the town of Bunia in Ituri province. The militia is responsible for the massacre of several people and thousands of displace people in Ituri province.” In turn, Dieudonne’s reportage of the area is immediately activist, sending a clearly charged message to the viewers. The photographer continues of his poignant work: “The richness of the country’s subsoil has contributed to the creation of several militias and caused numerous tribal wars.” A reality that Dieudonne doesn’t shy away from when photographing how the population lives day to day. “Congo is a large country with its own realities,” he finally goes on to say. As a consequence, Congo in Conversation generates a multitude of conversation points, showcasing a number of perspectives on ensuing issues from human rights to epidemic.

For Finbarr, on the other hand, the beauty of the book comes down to the strength of the photographers and the way they powerfully their respective stories through photography. Arlette’s and Dieudonne’s work are just two of many powerful bodies of work communicating differing ways of life in the Congo. Raissa Karama Rwizibuka, a 22 year old photographer from Bikavu who also features in the book, explores the cultural significance of dandies for example, marking a wholly different investigative strand of Congolese identity. Ultimately, the book exists so this kind of complex and nuanced work can be seen more widely, detailing the evolution of quite a short period of time and how it unfolds in the eyes of a handful of talented rising photographers.

GalleryCongo in Conversation (Copyright © Congo in Conversation, 2020)

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Congo in Conversation (Copyright © Congo in Conversation, 2020)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.

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