The Andito degli Angiolini in Palazzo Pitti is currently hosting Sammy Baloji’s first solo exhibition in Italy, titled K(C)ongo, Fragments of Interlaced Dialogues. Subversive classifications. The exhibition project, curated by Lucrezia Cippitelli, Chiara Toti and the collective BHMF, constitutes the culmination of a research project initiated by the artist in 2016 from the collections of various museums around the world, including the Medici palace.
In the exhibition, which is enriched by two site-specific artworks for the rooms of the Andito degli Angiolini, motifs and narratives intertwine, drawn from objects that arrived from the Kongo Kingdoms (today’s Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo and Angola) starting in the 16th century, now stored at Palazzo Pitti and in other museums.
The artist’s works are linked to archival materials and relevant artifacts from the Kongo on loan from the Anthropology and Ethnology Museum of Florence, the Museum of Civilizations in Rome and the Uffizi Galleries.
The common thread running throughout the show, which covers seven rooms, is an 88-metre-long carpet (The Crossing), designed and manufactured specifically for the rooms of the Andito degli Angiolini, whose decoration stems from the geometric motifs and circular bands of four precious Kongo oliphants (inlaid ivory ceremonial trumpets): three of them come from the Tesoro dei Granduchi of Palazzo Pitti, while one has been granted on loan for the occasion from the Museo delle Civiltà in Rome. These splendid objects, two of which have been in the Medici collections since the 16th century, mark the end point of a journey emphasizing the complexity of interlaced dialogues between Kongo, Renaissance Europe and Modern Europe.
With the immersive installation Gnosis, inspired by the Hall of Maps in Palazzo Vecchio, Sammy Baloji explores the concept of the Wunderkammer, contextualising Renaissance collections of mirabilia and naturalia, and the emergence of modern anthropological and ethnographic museums in Italy.
Some sculptures, on loan from the Museo di Antropologia e Etnologia of Florence, came from the Belgian Congo and arrived in Italy at the beginning of the 20th century. The letters of King Afonso I of Kongo to the Portuguese king Manuel I, as well as Baloji’s copper and bronze plates Negative of Luxury Cloth and the loom-sculpture Goods Trades Roots (in which the geometric patterns recall the precious raffia fabrics that arrived in Italy in the 16th and 17th century through Portuguese merchants), exemplify an equal and horizontal relationship between Europe and Africa, which overturns the narrative that later became predominant.
The exhibition highlights a subversive profile of Kongo’s artworks, which go beyond modern “exotic” or “ethnographic” classifications, a legacy of the transatlantic slave trade and the Scramble for Africa of the late 19th century, whose implications conflict with contemporary cultural perceptions and values.
The exhibition will close during the hottest months of the year and will be open in two separate periods: until June 26 and from September 6 to November 27.
About Sammy Baloji
Sammy Baloji lives and works between Lubumbashi and Brussels. His work explores the memory and history of the Democratic Republic of Congo concerning global history. Starting from the research on the cultural, architectural and industrial heritage of the Katanga region, Baloji’s work reinterprets the impact of colonisation, highlighting how, from the contemporary perspective of colonial narratives, the economic imperialism of our time still pervades images and reinforces power relations. His critical vision embraces the historic relations between Africa and Europe documented from the 15th century and shows us how the cultural clichés that shaped collective memories continue to play a central role in our current perception of the world. Appointed Chevalier des Arts et Lettres in France, he has received numerous scholarships, prizes and awards, notably at the Rencontres africaines de photographie de Bamako and the Dakar Biennial. He was the winner of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. From 2019 to 2020, he was a resident at the French Academy in Rome – Villa Medici. Since 2018, he has been a lecturer at the Sommerakademie in Salzburg. He has exhibited in major museums, galleries and shows around the world, including Beaux-Arts de Paris (2021); Biennale of Sydney (2020); Documenta 14 (Kassel/Athens, 2017); Biennale de Lyon (2015); Biennale di Venezia (2015); Festival Photoquai at Musée du Quai Branly (2015). In 2020, he was included in the Power 100, the annual ranking of the “most influential people in the art world” by the British magazine ArtReview.