The exhibition “Unextractable: Sammy Baloji invites” emphasizes collective artistic production as a means of opposing the pervasive and destructive effects of economic, ecological, and sociocultural exploitation. It is hosted at Kunsthalle Mainz, a renowned contemporary art museum in Germany.
Sammy Baloji’s artistic work also explores the history of mining in his hometown of Lubumbashi, which is located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s southeast. He contrasts the massive damage to the environment and social institutions with Katanga residents’ memories and expectations.
Key parts of his artistic approach include encouraging collaboration among artists, activists, and academics, as well as bringing together various types of knowledge and creation. He invited 12 artists with whom he often collaborates in the Congo and Europe. It’s part of his effort to resist extractivism, an economic model that involves the extraction of raw materials from nature.
Sammy Baloji’s previous works and present research further inform the organization of the exhibition into three conceptual strands. “Expropriation of land and the transformation of earth into raw materials” is based on Baloji’s artistic recording of the Katanga region’s extractive enterprises, which turn land into resources and see societies as merely a potential labour pool. Also notable are works like Tales of the Copper Cross Garden, where he juxtaposes this with the memories, hopes, and projects of people who live among the wreckage left by colonialism, industrial mining, and the global capitalist system.
Baloji’s critical inquiry into the colonial archive plays a central role in his work. Baloji aims to uncover the cultural practices and historical experiences of societies while also identifying any degrading representations and ethnographical assignations. This “confrontation with the colonial archive and its continuities” is the exhibition’s second thematic strand.
The polyphonic nature of the exhibition continues the long-standing work of the artists and art producers in the circle around Sammy Baloji to further develop collective structures in Lubumbashi. The independent Picha platform lies at the heart of these strands. It also organizes the Lubumbashi Biennale. Artists such as Sybil Coovi Handemagnon, Nilla Banguna, Fundi Mwamba Gustave, Antje Van Wichelen, Jackson Bukasa, Dan Kayeye, Justice Kasongo, and more were all part of the works on display at Kunsthalle Mainz.
The exhibition is based on a concept by Lotte Arndt & Sammy Baloji. It is supported by Kultursommer Rheinland-Pfalz, Wallonie-Bruxelles International (WBI), kiosk Vlaanderen, the Bureaux des Arts Plastiques of Institut français, and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.