I visited From Congo with Love yesterday with a friend. It’s a small photo exhibition by Rankin about the daily lives of people living in the DRC, currently at the National Theatre. Worth a diversion to have a look if you’re in the area.
Afterwards, in a nice juxtaposition she told me about a documentary she’d watched recently called ‘Episode 3: Enjoy Poverty’. I’d never heard of it and haven’t been able to find it anywhere online but have managed to watch a couple of trailers and read the director’s summary here.
My friend mentioned she was rather traumatised by the film – from her description, it involved a white European man roaming around the DRC and asking rather insensitive questions to the people he met about their own poverty.
From the trailer at their website, the director/interviewer, Renzo Martens asks a man in DRC “have you ever owned a suit?” the answer comes back “no” – “leather shoes?” – “no” – “If you haven’t been able to obtain these in 10 years, I don’t think you’ll be able to get them soon”.
“One can only denounce poverty by depicting it.” Martens states. His belief is that most depictions of poverty currently are part of a lucrative economy from which no poor person benefits – the trailer shows cameramen swarming around dead bodies and starving babies.
The film and exhibition take vastly different approaches to displaying poverty.
From Congo with Love depicts every day Congolese life – highlighting the daily resilience of people who face constant adversity. The documentary (from the little I can gather) instead seems to want to make the viewer as uncomfortable as possible – by making us realise the reality of poverty and how it is often exploited for the gains of others. Whilst an admirable aim – by doing so though has the director not exploited the poor too? Or is that the point? Or does that even matter?
Interestingly, From Congo with Love was sponsored by Oxfam – and so inevitably has a particular portrayal of poverty it will want to get across – one Martens may well be suspicious of. Indeed, in the summary he calls it ‘exported poverty’.
Is this a fair assumption? Is poverty exploited by organisations, and if so is it important to show different realities of the poor?