Water. Earth. Fire. Air.
Photography. Image. Power. Violence.
Global economy—slaves, rubber, copper, uranium, gold, diamonds, oil, coltan, Niobium, …— Again. And again.
But whose image? Whose power? Whose bodies?
This is a story of histories and futures.
Of movement. Repetition. Change.
Of power. Violence. Bodies. Congo.
Our history hinges on severed hands. And on photographs taken by missionaries who wanted to abolish slavery even as they believed we were inferior to them. Our history hinges on the world believing that we will forever be hopeless and helpless. That we embody suffering.
What we embody, I believe, is elemental. It is water, earth, fire, air. Dance. It is pasts and futures. And it has power. So I rethink the clicks and flashes that have cast us in history. And I flirt with liberation from the colonial gaze.
Matata is a film told primarily through dance. It features a young fashion model, Sarah, who becomes haunted by history when she is dressed as a replica of a photograph taken during King Léopold II’s brutal colonial rule of Congo. As she struggles to reclaim her identity, she encounters historic, contemporary, and futuristic characters, who collectively help her piece together her place in Congo’s past, present, and future. Guided by these mysterious characters—including an angel, a robot, and a ghost—she seeks council in the church, in a history museum, and from a traditional healer but remains unsatisfied with the answers she finds until she returns to the photograph and demands the director of the photoshoot represent her on her own terms.
Matata is our reflection—as filmmaker, writer, and scholar—on the photographs of Alice Seeley Harris. Ms. Harris’s abolitionist activism set a precedent for the use of documentary photography as a tool of social justice advocacy. At the same time, her approach to photographing Congolese subjects—both human and natural—belies her inherent belief in the superiority of Europeans over Africans. In short, Ms. Harris was among the most important advocates for Congolese rights in the early 20th century and, simultaneously, unable to recognize Congolese subjects as her equals. What troubles us is that this contradiction continues—photography remains a popular medium of intervention by international organizations addressing Congo’s many crises but many of the resultant images retain the legacy of domination and exploitation. In response, we have crafted a curriculum for a workshop that we are implementing across Congo in partnership with the University of Nottingham, which holds Harris’ archive. In it, we use Harris’ photographs to teach students to decompose the colonial regard and compose their own representations of self and others. This process has three primary steps: recreation, contradiction, and creative expression. As a film, Matata is not only a retrospective on the workshops, but the result of a challenge we posed to ourselves, namely, to imagine what it would mean to fully decompose the colonial regard? And what might we compose instead? One answer is Matata—an inquisitive, artistic interrogation of the politics of representation and social justice in documentary and fiction film.
Matata is connected to a series of workshops, entitled Decomposer le régard colonial, organized between Yole!Africa and the University of Nottingham. Cast members for the film include professional actors, established artists, and selected workshop participants from various cities in the DRC (including Goma, Lubumbashi, Kinshasa, etc.).
ABOUT THE DIRECTORS
Petna Ndaliko Katondolo, director and director of photography
Petna Ndaliko Katondolo is an award-winning filmmaker, educator, and multi-
genre artist from The DR Congo. He is also the founder of the Yole!Africa cultural
center (www.yoleafrica.org) and of the Congo International Film Festival
(www.ciff.cd). As an educator, he teaches and consults regularly for international organizations addressing social and political inequity among youth through culture and education. He is currently the Artist in Residence at the Stone Center for Black History and Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The USA.
Chérie Rivers Ndaliko, writer and researcher
Chérie Rivers Ndaliko is an interdisciplinary scholar, writer, and activist whose focus is art and social justice. She is the author of Necessary Noise: Music, Film, and Charitable Imperialism in the East of Congo (Oxford University Press, 2016). She has also worked as a film composer, writer, and executive producer for films including Mabele na biso (2014), Congo: 50 ans et au-déla (2012), and Jazz Mama (2010). Dr. Ndaliko holds degrees from the Berklee College of Music (B.M. in Filmscoring), and Harvard University (M.A. in Ethnomusicology; Ph.D. in African Studies), where she was a pioneer of the University’s Social Engagement Initiative. She is currently the Director of Research and Education at Yole!Africa in Goma, DRC, and a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill