The Congo Atrocity Lantern Lecture was devised by the British missionary couple Reverend John Harris and his wife Alice Seeeley Harris. Based on their time spent in the Congo Free state, it combined her atrocity photography with witness statements from a variety of sources. The lecture toured Britain and proved so popular that a standard set of lecture notes was developed so that the talk could be delivered by different speakers. The lecture icluded material designed to promote awareness of the brutal slave labour regime that occurred under King Leopold II. It also included material promoting British missionary activities in the area. The language and the accompanying slides were part of a discourse on the European 'civilising mission' and were used to justify the expansion of the colonial project as well as antislavery sentiment.
This haunting exhibition documented the exploitation and brutality experienced by Congolese people under the control of Leopold II of Belgium in the 1900s. The photographs, by missionary Alice Seeley Harris, were at the time a radical and significant shift in the representation and understanding of the impact of colonial violence in the Congo, and exposed the deep-rooted hypocrisy of so called 'colonial benevolence' which cost the lives of millions of Congolese. The campaign led to public pressure and international scrutiny of Leopold’s administration, which came to an end in 1909.
The legacy of Belgian violence and exploitation would tragically re-emerge years later after the Congo gained independence in 1960, with the murder of the country’s first legally elected Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba.
European exploitation of the Congolese people and resources has shaped the country's recent history and the effects are still evident today.
This exhibition was developed in partnership with Autograph ABP and Anti-Slavery International.
Autograph ABP presents a rarely seen archive dating from 1904, created by English missionary Alice Seeley Harris in the Congo Free State. These pioneering photographs publicly exposed the violent consequences of human rights abuses at the turn of the century, and are exhibited alongside newly commissioned work from acclaimed contemporary Congolese artist Sammy Baloji.
In the early 1900s, the missionary Alice Seeley Harris produced what was probably the first photographic campaign in support of human rights. She exposed the atrocities that underpinned King Leopold II’s regime in the Congo Free State, bringing to public attention the plight of the Congolese people under a violent and oppressive regime.
These photographs fundamentally shifted public awareness of the deep-rooted hypocrisy of King Leopold II’s promise of colonial benevolence, and caused an outcry at the time of their publication in Europe and America.
Over 100 years later, these issues remain of primary concern to Congolese citizen and artist Sammy Baloji. Like Harris, Baloji uses photography as a medium to interrogate current political concerns with reference to the past. Acclaimed for his photomontage works that juxtapose desolate post-industrial landscapes with ethnographic archival imagery, Baloji explores the cultural and architectural ‘traces’ of a country forever haunted by the spectres of its colonial past; in particular, the southeastern Katanga province and its capital, the city of Lubumbashi.
In this new body of work-in-progress, commissioned by Autograph ABP, Baloji continues to investigate the colonial legacies and fractured histories that haunt contemporary Congolese society. Notions of African utopias, post-colonial disillusionment, and a quest for authenticity amidst ‘the ruins of modernity’ define Baloji’s multi-layered practice: the impact of Western imperialism, Maoist communism, urban segregation and colonial sanitation politics as well as the unending mineral exploitation of the Congo’s natural resources, and with it the tragedies and traumas of state-controlled violence and ongoing human rights abuses.
Congo Dialogues marks the 175th anniversary of Anti-Slavery International and the invention of photography. The first major solo showcase of Sammy Baloji’s work in the UK, this exhibition presents a unique opportunity to see both historical and contemporary works interrogating the Congo and its colonial legacies. The Alice Seeley Harris archive was last shown to the public 110 years ago.
Featuring artefacts, navigational equipment, maps, photographs, personal letters and diaries, Navigating the Congo is an exhibition which explored the history of non-conformist involvement in the Congo River regions during the 19th and 20th century.
By looking at the collections held in The Angus Library and Archive, the exhibition sought to bring to light some of the challenges faced in navigating this history and the relationships that developed between Baptist missionaries and the Kongo people during the period of European colonialism.
A young boy forced to collect rubber for the Anglo-Belgium India Rubber Company (ABIR). The rubber quotas imposed on the indigenous population were so great that, as in this picture, the rubber vines were cut down rather than waiting for them to be tapped. As a result hardly any vines were left around the rubber stations. This image formed part of the Harris Lantern Slide Collection. Under King Leopold II the Congo Free State used mass forced labour to extract rubber from the jungle for the European market. As consumer demand grew King Leopold II's private army - the Force Publique - used violent means to coerce the population into meeting quotas, including murder, mutilation, rape, village burning, starvation and hostage taking. Alice Seeley Harris and her husband Reverend John H. Harris were missionaries in the Congo Free State from the late 1890s. Alice produced a collection of images documenting the horrific abuses of the African rubber labourers. Her photographs are considered to be an important development in the history of humanitarian campaigning. The images were used in a number of publications. The Harrises also used the photographs to develop the Congo Atrocity Lantern Lecture which toured Britain and the the USA raising awareness of the issue of colonial abuses under King Leopold II's regime. Source: Antislavery International and Panos Pictures.