For two years, Dutch artist Renzo Martens traveled around Congo, from the capital of Kinshasa to deep into the interior. Employing a casual film style, camera in hand, he makes his way around the poverty-fighting industry in the post-civil war country, regularly appearing on screen himself. He films UN peacekeepers in their SUVs providing security for an international company so it can mine gold; corpses of gold-digging rebels surrounded by Western photographers; white relief workers happily taking pictures of the recipients of their emergency aid, with their logo on every canvas tent they hand out; a large landowner at a photo exhibition looking at pictures of his day laborers, who don't even earn enough to feed their children. It all amounts to one conclusion: poverty is there to stay, and "fighting it" is an industry from which the poor benefit very little. Martens then launches a self-styled emancipation program: he teaches the Congolese poor that "images of poverty" are their country's most lucrative natural resource. Under Martens's guidance, local photographers start photographing malnourished children instead of wedding parties. He mounts a neon sign in the middle of the forest that reads "Enjoy Poverty," at which point children start dancing. But in the end, adversity won't be held at bay for long.
Renzo Martens for Renzo Martens Menselijke Activiteiten, Peter Krüger for Inti Films
Jan de Coster