“Ka-pi-ta”: The official job title given to Congolese charged with enforcing their white master’s bidding—through domination—over their fellow Congolese on plantations, in factories, in commerce, and other sites of capitalist extraction and production.
DCP 22″ SILENT FILM 2020
I am haunted by the question of how illusions become interpreted as reality. I live on land that was transformed into the illusion of a nation by men around a table a continent away. That illusion, called Congo, has, for most, become a reality. And the so-called reality of Congo has, in turn, become the backdrop for more illusions—colonization created the illusion of civilization and progress; independence from colonization created the illusion of freedom, equality, and more progress. But what I see around me is neither civil, equitable, nor free. What I see around me are illusions calcified by willful repetition into “reality” despite the mounting evidence—of human and ecological genocide—that mutate ever faster into the next disguise as one illusion begets another.
How do these illusions take hold? What alchemy makes them seem real? Can they be exposed for what they are?
Kapita traces this shadow story, exploring how the subterranean systems of domination imposed through colonization were impervious to legal negotiations for independence and thus persist unchecked. That is, how the logic of colonial domination outlasts the dismantling of colonial administrations and continues to dominate us, not only through economic and political structures, but also through storytelling. There are those whorefer to this as coloniality, and I take their point.
These are the questions driving Kapita, driving my meditation on how storytelling has coded illusions into reality. And how storytelling might recode those illusions in favor of a different reality. The fodder for this meditation is a collection of archival films including, Panorama star of Congo (1912) and Le fonctionnement d’une bourse de travail (1926)—which were among the first shot in Africa to corroborate the illusion that colonization was a civilizing project. But beneath their celebratory propaganda, these films tell the shadow story of how extractive capitalism was introduced under the guise of benevolence.
In that spirit, Kapita is a story of systems—systems of extraction and narration—that seeks to make illusions visible for what they are and, in so doing, to contribute to my larger project of recoding aesthetics.
“While most films operate on a principle of “assembly”, Kapita positions itself as an excavation, scraping through layers of images to expose the fault-lines that define present-day Congo. It is scraping through layers of images to expose the fault-lines that define present-day Congo. Its kaleidoscopic mix of colonial film-reels and contemporary footage plays like a seismic disruption, liberating the eye from a discrete sense of time, and leaving one to question whether the present moment is yesterday’s tomorrow or tomorrow’s yesterday.” Nelson Walker III