"Building long lasting relationships is ultimately about creating trust"
There is no training center for photography in DRC. In times of the visual turn and highly visual individual communication (Instagram, Whatsapp, Facebook), visual literacy is very important in order for citizens to become active members of their society. EUNIC DRC is cooperating with the Academy of Fine Arts in Kinshasa in order to create a training center for photography in Kinshasa.
In a two year workshop series led by professionals from the continent and Europe as well as local co-teachers, students of the Academy are trained in photography as well as basic professional skills. The modular workshops focus both on artistic creation as well as on other fields of photography (journalistic, documentary, commercial). Between workshops, students work on projects mentored by the teachers. Students will receive a certificate of completion issued by the Academy at the end of the course. A final exhibition is organised at the end of the project. Out of this pool of students, future teachers of photography will be further trained in order to become teachers of photography.
In 2017, EUNIC Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) started a cooperation with the EU Delegation. Since then, colleagues have realised numerous cultural relations projects. Ana Vieira from Camões, I.P., the Portuguese cultural institute, spoke with EUNIC Global about the vision of EUNIC DRC and how one of its projects – the “Master Classes for Photography” – enabled students to make a career as photographers, how this changes the image of Africa in media, and how it allowed the Academy of Fine Arts to install a photography programme.
What are the objectives of the partnership between EUNIC and the EU Delegation?
EUNIC’s and the EU Delegation’s aims have been aligned since the early stages of our partnership:to work closely with Congolese partners, to empower young people, to give support to new creation, to facilitate capacity building, and to ensure that culture reaches the widest range of people possible, hence aiming at the decentralization of cultural activities.
How do you do this practically, say, for instance, reach wide audiences, especially young people?
A good example of collaboration with Congolese partners is the European Film Festival. Our network of partners is ever increasing, this year there were 23 involved.Together we showed 30 exhibitions in 10 cities of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a number that grows annually. As a result, over 23.000 people attended both European and Congolese film’s exhibitions, fulfilling one of the priorities of the EUNIC cluster: to make culture accessible to the widest range of people possible.
Aiming to support young creation, this year’s edition also saw the launching of a short film competition. The “Concour du Film de Poche” invited participants to produce a short film of 2 minutes with their smartphones. The theme of this first edition was “to document the everyday”. It was not only a competition - we also offered tutorials by professionals that aimed to help people create their own films. The results were amazing. We received over 50 submissions and great feedback.
How do you ensure a constant flow of information between partners?
We see it to be the role of EUNIC to align our and our partner’s objectives. It is about building long lasting relationships which ultimately is about creating trust. After two and a half years of partnership with the EU Delegation and of working along with Congolese cultural actors we are seeing very satisfactory results.
We keep on building on the relationships. We learn from each activity and we are constantly trying to improve. None of this is done overnight, it takes time and a lot of hard work from all parties.
Recently you organized the exhibition opening of final works of the “Master Classes for Photography”. Tell us about the project.
The two-year programme was implemented together with the Academy of Fine Arts in Kinshasa and consisted of eight master classes with national and international experts and photographers to enable students understand and practice on various aspects of photography. Parts of the programme focused on photography as an artistic practice whereas others focused on the journalistic side of it. The aim was to allow students to choose their own paths. The masterclasses programme lasted for two years and finished with the exhibition Connected, showing the works of the students. The exhibit was a success: 500 people attended the opening, some students’ photographs received offers and were sold, and some students were even offered job opportunities.
What are the next steps for the project?
Indeed, the project “Master Classes for Photography” did not finish after the two-year project, it is still ongoing. For example, replying to our aim to decentralize cultural activities, at the end of this year there will be a collaboration with the Biennale de Lubumbashi where students are going to take part in some workshops, among other things.
Most importantly, we are happy to say that the overall aim of the project is well on its way: The Fine Arts Academy is now only waiting for formal authorization as to start a licensed degree on photography. If all goes well, we will have the photography training implemented as a degree programme at theAcademy by the end of the year, a very big milestone in the project and in the partnership. This also means that some of the participants of the “MasterClasses for Photography” will be able to finish their 5-year degree already within the photography programme whilst others will be assistants to the department.
What kind of jobs will the participants of the Master Classes be doing?
Students are continuing as photographers and have since started to develop their own paths: some are pursuing artistic photography, showing their work in exhibitions and selling it; some are looking into the media, since there is a lack of professional photographers: one of them already works with an important African publication. Others want to pursue the academic side and contribute to the development of photography and photography studies in the country.
During the eight sessions of the programme, instructors came from Congo, other African countries and from Europe (these were for example: JohnFleetwood, Katrin Peters-Klaphake, Léonard Pongo, Michelle Loukidis, Monica deMiranda, Robert Carrubba) and we believe that the creation of this national and international network is also important for the students for a broad and successful career in photography.
Can photographers contribute to changing the image of Congo?
That’s what artists do – showing different perspectives of realities. It is up to the Congolese to create their image of their own country. The outlook of their surroundings is different and of course they need to play a role in spreading their own vision of Congo in the world. This is the role of both artistic and journalistic photography.
The winner of the film competition is Peter Miyalu with his video “La Danse du matin”. It can be watched on YouTube.
EUNIC DRC signed entered its first partnership with the EU Delegation in 2017 on the basis of a ‘service contract’ of 12months, which was then extended for another period of two years. Together with local partners, colleagues have realised a number of activities with the overall objective to support the professionalisation of the cultural sector.Another initiative not mentioned in the interview is “Rumba Parade”, the result of a partnership with the Institut National des Arts which aims to include Congolese Rumba in theUNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The project entails a yearly scientific colloquium and a music festival. Local authorities inKinshasa support the registration of Congolese Rumba on the UNESCO list.
Ana Corga Vieira represented Camões, I.P in Kinshasa since the creation of the EUNIC DRC cluster, in 2016. Camões, I.P. assumed the presidency of the cluster in May 2019, but Ana has in the meanwhile relocated, she lives now in Belgium and will be working alongside the members of EUNIC Belgium.
IMAGE: ABA / Goethe-Institute
This interview was published in October 2019.
Connected – Photography Masterclass Exhibition