After several months of planning and preparation we were thrilled to hold the Congo Tales auction at the Barberini Museum in Potsdam. It was important to us that our auction, filled with a selection of artist proof photographs from our original exhibition, was curated with the same care we have put into the project every step of the way. These breathtaking images, captured deep in the Congo basin, were the primary items offered for bidding during the event. The main focus of the evening was not just to raise funds to continue our work with the Congo Tales content series. We also wanted to raise support for the creation of new initiatives that communicate the urgency of understanding and protecting the world’s ecosystems by telling the authentic stories of the people who inhabit them.
Each individual photograph in the Congo Tales series represents the collision of a natural environment with amazing inhabitants and the visual conceptions of pop culture. To bring together this combination without compromising this important ecosystem with our ignorance took months, if not years, of dedicated research and preparation. Understanding that we cannot ‘discover’ that which already exists, our main philosophy of work was to continually come back to the questions instead of imposing our own limiting answers. Our journey began with a team of researchers, teachers and creators working side by side with the people of Mbomo, learning and documenting the rich mythologies locked within the oral history of these remarkable people, who have lived in harmony with the Congo Basin Rainforest for centuries.
To this already beautifully set stage we then brought in pop-culture photographer Pieter Henket, renowned for his stylized portraits of icons such as Lady Gaga and Sir Ben Kingsley, to work with the Mbomo people to use natural materials to give their stories a surreal yet somehow authentic photographic interpretation. This undertaking was no small feat as each photo bravely attempted to encompass the soul of each story within a single shot. For one such image, The Rainbow python– a story representing the union between the river and the forest, creating the final image involved approximately one hundred local children, dozens of crew members and a plethora of technical equipment being transported into the rainforest.
The auction took place in the very same column laden halls of the Barberini museum that also hosted the “Congo Tales: Told by the people of Mbomo” exhibition only a few months earlier. After a brief reception hosted by Museum director Dr. Ortrud Westheider, attendees made their way to the upstairs auction hall.
World renowned Christie’s Auction houses’ very own European chairwoman, Christiane Gräfin zu Rantzau, graciously offered her time and expertise to lead the auction in person. Guiding attendees though each individual pieces’ background, context and historical references, she then led seamlessly into the fast paced back and forth bidding signature to the auction house – with an occasional interruption for comic relief to maintain the supportive spirit of the occasion.
In Congolese culture, animal totems carry huge significance and therefore feature heavily throughout the local mythologies of the region. Our team worked along with local Mbomo children to attempt to somehow capture the essence of these important cultural legends. Along with the Rainbow Python, another piece that garnered a large amount of attention was My Love, based on a Congolese parable about a young woman who traded her baby for honey. Three totem themed pieces, Marantaceae, the Bird Boyand the Elephant, were also popular among bidders.
By the end of the evening we were able to raise thousands of euros in funds for the Tales of Us project, which will be directed into the various initiatives in the Congo as well as to supporting future projects in other parts of the world.
One such initiative will be the second printing round of a special edition Congo Tales book in the local language of Lingala, specifically for the Mbomo people of the Congo. In this way, the people and their community will be able to continue to read their stories in their own language, documenting an oral tradition that has spanned thousands of years.
We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has supported us on our journey so far, and a warm welcome to everyone joining us as we begin to embark on our next chapter.