“Kinshasa makes me want to stay, leave and come back again. It takes at least two visits to really get to know its streets and neighbourhoods. To breathe in its heat and dancing nights”, the young photographer told us when interviewed about his emblematic series “Regard” recently exhibited at the Cartier Foundation in Paris as part of “Beauté Congo, Kongo Kitoko”. The young artist, brutally taken at the age of 36 by malaria, had forged himself a place in the contemporary art world. He was one of the rare artists that can be said to have real perspective. He had a unique style that wasn’t about trying to copy or reproduce a winning formula. He earned himself an international recognition through photography yet like to describe himself as a painter. “A painter who paints with a camera”.
Katembo Siku first cut his teeth on painting before discovering the power of photography at a collaborative workshop run by the Kinshasa Académie des Beaux-Arts and the Strasbourg Université des Arts Décoratifs in 2008. From his first short film (“une voiture en carton”) and first photographs he was hooked and traded his brushes in for a lens. However, what he had learned with his first medium gave him a rare sense of composition and depth of narrative. The distinctive result was photography poetry that is simultaneously realistic and dreamlike. His upside-down frames showed glimmering passers-by, rubbish and shop fronts where the “garbage” Kinshasa, as the town’s inhabitants ironically call it, is made beautiful again without having to lie about what it is. With infinitive titles that speak about daily life in the Congo and it’s watchwords (suffer, stay, survive), his series “Regard” (2011 Fondation Blachère award) narrates the city like an open book leaving the spectator to finish the story. This is what captivated the organisers of the Avignon Festival in France that used a piece from his “Yango” exhibit for the poster of their international performing arts festival. His latest work “Mutations” that shows a rooftop perspective of Kinshasa, Brazzaville and Oostende in Belgium and “Transmissions” that explores tattoo culture in the West in relation to the progressive decline of African scarification rituals, bear witness to his desire to establish parallels between overlapping cultures and worlds.
Katembo was born in Goma in 1979. He continued to work as a director in Kinshasa in collaboration with Canadian teams in particular. He also shot a series on the ecological disaster following the installation of copper mining in Katanga entitled “Après mine” that was exhibited at the 9th Bamako Encounters in Mali. Yet he had something else close to his heart: “It is important to develop my projects but also those of other talented young artists”. This is what led him to create a biannual contemporary art show “Yango”. He was the driving force behind the project that, after overcoming considerable difficulties, saw the light in 2014. The show brought together about thirty artists, two-thirds of which are Congolese, around the theme “Avancer” or “keep moving”. The best tribute Congolese artists could give him would be to continue, without him but in his footsteps. Keep moving!