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The Beautiful Time: Photography by Sammy Baloji is a suite of works by the Congolese artist Sammy Baloji. In these haunting photographs and video, Baloji evokes the memory of a once vibrant copper mining industry —now lost — that helped build the modern city of Lubumbashi, in the Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the middle of the twentieth century these mines were some of the most productive in Africa and this region was the world's second largest producer of copper.

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The Katanga province, in the eastern region of the present day Democratic Republic of the Congo, was once home to a productive copper mining complex in what is now the modern city of Lubumbashi. In the mid-20th century, these mines were the second largest producer of copper in the world. Today the scale of the local mining industry is greatly diminished and the city and surrounding areas have fallen on hard economic times.

Archival photograph of a prisoner placed at the center of the current industrial wasteland. The chain around the man's neck recalls the roping together of prisoners by colonial officers to prevent their escape. In this image, an archival photograph of a prisoner is placed at the center of the current industrial wasteland. The chain around the man's neck recalls the roping together of prisoners by colonial officers to prevent their escape.

Untitled, 2006, Digital C-print, Sammy Baloji

Baloji's images juxtapose early archival photographs of African workers with images of the present day ruins of factories and mines. His works convey the dramatic power of tragedy — of a prosperity recently squandered through mismanagement and government corruption. Although the early workers — who wear prison garb and in chains in these photographs — came to the mines feeling as though they were slaves to the colonial state, they and their children ultimately made themselves into skilled workmen. It was their labor that created Congo's modern industrial era.


Decaying structures, slag heaps, and smokestacks comprise the landscape of present day Lubumbashi.

Untitled, 2006, Digital C-print, Sammy Baloji

Baloji's work aims to understand and reconnect two strikingly different eras. The photographs give new life to those forgotten African workers who built Congo's prosperity and they cry out against the recent deindustrialization in the Congo and elsewhere in Africa. The Beautiful Time initiates an important conversation about postcolonial history, about urbanization and industrialization, and about the aspirations of Congolese youth in the twenty-first-century.

Sammy Baloji was born in 1978 in Lubumbashi, where he currently lives and works. Baloji studied literature and human sciences at the University of Lubumbashi. He was a member of the Vicanos Club, a group of Lubumbashi filmmakers, video artists, and photographers. Setting out to gather local memories of urban work and urban life, Baloji became especially interested in colonial architecture and the heritage of his province, Katanga. His work breaks from straightforward narrative by superimposing the past in his recent photography, montage, and film. Baloji is a 2009 laureate of the Prince Claus Award. His photography has recently been shown at Trans Cape Africa, South Africa, the Flemish Royal Theater, Brussels, the Musée Quai Branly, Paris, and the 2007 Bamako Biennale, where he was an award winner.



The Beautiful Time: Photography by Sammy Baloji is organized by The Museum For African Art, New York
Museum for African Art

Related Events and Programs

Photography and Africa: Exhibit Talk and Book Signing

Date: December 1st
Time: Talk 1-2pm. Book Signing 2-4pm.
Location: Natural History Museum African Voices Hall Focus Gallery and Museum Store.



The Beautiful Time Blogs


Reflections on The Beautiful Time
Exploring the exhibit through Author and Smithsonian Research Associate, Erin Haney.

The Beautiful Time: Photography by Sammy Baloji
Thoughts from the Curator



Exhibit Catalog

Exhibit catalog cover

The illustrated exhibit catalog is available for purchase in the museum gift shop on the ground floor.

The color catalog features rich background information and additional photographs from The Beautiful Time series.

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