Carl De Keyzer | Vestiges of Colonial Congo
Belgian photographer Carl De Keyzer has compiled a series of powerful images of the remnant colonial structures in modern Congo into a new book titled Congo (belge). In collaboration with architecture historian Johan Lagae and in anticipation of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 50th anniversary of independence from Belgium this June, the book offers a different reading of the nation’s complex colonial past. Photographs of the once-glorified and now-abandoned factories, missions, prisons, mines, military sites and harbours built by the Belgians shed light on the stark realities and consequences of colonization.
The title of the book is a rephrased reference to Congo belge (en images), a book published in 1911 that idealized Belgium’s “contribution” to the African nation. Between 2003 and 2006, De Keyzer journeyed to the Congo following the “Guide Du Voyageur du Congo Belge”, a 1954 touristic guide that portrayed Congo as the ideal holiday destination with brand new infrastructure and stunning scenery. In juxtaposition, De Keyzer’s shots of decaying structures and buildings ravaged by war reflect on the repurcussions of imposing a culture, be it through architecture or religion, on a foreign people. As did many colonizers, the Belgians were trying to replicate a small version of their own country in the heart of Africa.
An exhibition featuring photographs from both publications is on show at the Photo Museum in Antwerp, Belgium until mid-May.