Stéphan Gladieu

Homo Detritus

© Stéphan Gladieu

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a geological scandal.” The French photographer states his point in no uncertain terms. The DRC – or Congo-Kinshasa – is the second-largest country of the 54 states that make up the African continent and has one of the richest sub-soils in the world, containing gold, coltan, diamonds, cobalt, oil and more. Yet it remains the eighth poorest country on our planet.

In the capital, the shantytowns overflow with every kind of waste: mobile phones, plastic, lids, synthetic foam, tyre tubes, fabrics, electric cables, syringes, cardboard, capsules, car parts, cans and much more besides.

In this series of portraits, Gladieu shows us “Ndaku ya la vie est belle” (Ndaku ya life is beautiful), a group founded six years ago by the visual artist Eddy Ekete and who make costumes from the rubbish found in the Kinshasa neighbourhoods to warn about pollution. These painters, singers and musicians have joined forces to expose the tragedy of their everyday lives, the wars that ensue, the exploitation of women and men, and the poverty that deprives them of all dignity. 

Using waste as their raw material, they put together outfits and masks inspired by African tradition to condemn the ongoing ecological disaster being inflicted on the DRC. “The group welcomed me for this project,” says the photographer. “I chose to shoot their portraits in the streets of Kinshasa, with settings and characters that form a dialogue.I wanted to spotlight the worthy struggle of this artistic community in its crusade against overconsumption and its environmental consequences.

This exhibition thus introduces you to “Plastic Woman” and her hundreds of empty pots and bottles glued together to form an impressive shell; or “Fabric Man”, an intriguing figure draped in shreds of cottons, pointing to the huge fabric factories that serve the whole world. These bizarre outfits –half armour, half uniform– have one clear aim: to challenge us and to get us to think about our own lifestyles. Because this clan of Homo Detritus, these fantastically grotesque characters, are terribly evocative of a modern affliction: the vanity of excessive consumption.

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