This piece originally appeared in print in So It Goes Issue.2, Winter 2013.
These images eschew the prosaic in order to evoke the contradictions of a cancerous cycle of ‘vicious little wars’ fought over eastern Congo’s equatorial mineral lode. A Hobbesian state of war exists in one of the world’s poorest yet richest countries – Congo’s starving, impoverished hordes routinely flee horrific violence in a beautiful landscape laden with rare earth minerals such as cassiterite, coltan, gold, tin, uranium, and other precious metals. The United Nations fights with a corrupt and undisciplined Congolese army against manifold unscrupulous rebel warlords whose only ideology is to destabilise and terrorise the region in order to profit from the land’s obscene wealth. Meanwhile the world stands by, ignoring this horrifying humanitarian disaster. According to the International Rescue Committee, more than 5.4 million have died of war-related causes in eastern Congo since 1998. But it’s more convenient not to notice, and the conflict goes relatively unseen – invisible to the global consciousness.
Three years ago, I decided to represent this blindness using an unusual military reconnaissance film that registers an invisible spectrum of infrared light – making visible what cannot be seen. Since then, I have made seven long journeys in this tattered yet ravishing landscape. I watched sadly as the conflict escalated. Rebel groups splintered and multiplied. Cities fell. Rwandan and Ugandan proxy armies carved out deadly enclaves. Tanzanian and South African troops formed rapid reaction forces with soldiers notorious for prostitution. All the while, Western humanitarians felt good about it all, sipping Caipirinhas in a luxurious lakeside bar, as an infamous war criminal, Bosco Ntaganda, sat at the next table.
This land is ruled by the AK-47. It is its only system of justice or education. Every industry in this region – from artisanal mineral exploitation to the illegal culling of primeval forest for charcoal production, and the herding of Tutsi cattle over mountain pastures – is run by the gun. The international community requires this vicious cycle to continue in order to sustain the cheap flow of important rare earth minerals vital for the mobile phones, iPads, laptops and other modern technologies that we consume. I portray this raped land in an unsettling, nauseous palette to harrow the viewer’s sensibility. The film’s description of this tragic landscape seems almost alchemical to me, turning shit to gold, evoking Congo’s misused natural wealth, which grows like pink weeds from the roof of a hovel in a refugee camp – and speaks of hope.
Words by Richard Mosse
All imagery © courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery