Long term project in Congo DR

The Uncanny is a long immersion in the daily life of Congo DR. It started in 2011 and is still ongoing. It was shot in and around the Provinces of Kinshasa, Katanga and in Kasai occidental. It began from a need to live in the country and experience its daily life. Instead of  trying to analyse and explain, it try to connect with an experience of Congo DR as a complex and polysemous environment.

Text below by Wilco Versteeg

Léonard Pongo immerses himself in the uncanny, the Freudian concept that describes the sense of estrangement when the familiar is encountered in a strange context. Born into a multi-national family in a country whose self-definition as a nation is constantly challenged, Pongo is drawn to the ragged edges of communities in motion.

His distinct visual language encompasses blurriness, movement, and the apparent violence of gestures and gazes. In Belgium In/Out and The Uncanny – his long-term project documenting the current expansion on an almost unprecedented scale of Democratic Republic of Congo -, individuals, animals, and communities seem to extend a welcoming hand while at the same time not allowing us to forget that we are entering a visual territory that is impervious to our preconceptions.

To enter into Pongo’s work, the viewer needs to suspend judgement and instead simply experience the familiar unfamiliar. In Necessary Evil, one of the impressionistic chapters of The Uncanny, Pongo shows the blossoming of unorthodox religious communities that are based more on charismatic leadership than on strictly defined dogma.

He trains his eye on these at times extravagant and theatrical sects, while engaging, pretend-naively, with the age-old trope of Africa as a place that is more spiritual than the so-called secular West. From this immersive experience, Pongo brings us a refreshing vision that transcends established and politicized clichés.

Rather than judging or questioning, Pongo wanders and wonders. The Uncanny extends an invitation to join him on this open-ended, meandering journey, where the intense gaze of his subjects compels us to question our position as spectator – a position that is never neutral.

Léonard Pongo thrives on the tension between ideas and lived experience; on that which escapes unequivocal definitions; and, finally, on the meeting of gazes: entire worlds in themselves.

Exhibition views

“My whole body changed into something else”, Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town and Johannesburg, 2021
“My whole body changed into something else”, Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town and Johannesburg, 2021
JRSLM — Paradise Lost Again, Free University Brussels, 2019
Confusing Public and Private, The 3rd Beijing Photo Biennial, CAFA Art Museum, 2018
Gemischte Gefuehle , Templehof, Berlin, 2017 image© David Brandt
Editions POPCAP at Berlin Gallery Week, 2017
Lagos Photo Festival, 2016