Leonard Pongo, Strangely Familiar

8th of July 2021 – 21st of August 2021

Leonard Pongo
Leonard Pongo

Foreign Agent and The Photographic Collective are proud to present Strangely Familiar, Léonard Pongo’s first solo exhibition in Switzerland. This unique and poetic display compiles a selection of works from his acclaimed series ‘The Uncanny’ (2011-2017) and ‘Primordial Earth’ (2017- ongoing).

Léonard Pongo (b. 1988, Belgium) is a photographer and visual artist based between Brussels, Belgium and Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). His photographic journey arose from a need to see the DRC from a different perspective than the often-depicted crises favoured by international media coverage. Adopting a more oblique and lyrical angle than straightforward documentary and photojournalist imagery, Pongo uses photography to voluntarily ask more questions that provide clear answers and play with viewers’ perception.

His long-term project ‘The Uncanny’ (2011-2017), shot in and around the provinces of Kinshasa, Katanga and in Kasai-Occidental, has earned him several international awards and world-wide recognition. Travelling to Congo for the first time in 2011, at first with the intention of documenting the upheaval surrounding the country’s second presidential elections, Pongo quickly turns his camera to his family’s everyday life. His first impressions and emotional relationship with people and places in Congo, oscillating between confrontation, inclusion and love, form part of his photographic narrative. Pongo translates his experiences in photography. His new-found connection with the surroundings guides him to depict this country intimately and subjectively and to capture people’s joy and dreams. The sensation of being home, but not perfectly fitting in, led Pongo to tackle the notion of ‘The Uncanny’ – a psychoanalytic terminology and aesthetic notion defining a familiar situation made strange and a feeling of discomfort.

Pongo’s ongoing series ‘Primordial Earth’ (2017- ) explores the diversity of landscapes in the DRC through allegorical representations of the country. Travelling to the Salonga forest and the Nyiragongo, one of the largest active volcanos in Africa which recently erupted, Pongo immersed himself in the midst of beautiful yet threatening nature. He embarked on a journey to visually represent these inspiring and powerful sites through his own interpretation of traditional stories from Congo. His interests lie in how symbols taken from the natural world shape collective imaginaries, organise societies and define their core values. Pongo modified his camera and experimented with invisible light and physical filters to capture what otherwise would remain hidden to the naked eye. He positions the land as a character and a photographic subject in its own right. The resulting photographs are imbued with a sense of surreal beauty inspired by the land, its traditions and philosophies, while questioning the relationship between humans and nature, in Congo and beyond.

Pongo’s work has been published worldwide and featured in numerous exhibitions including the group exhibitions IncarNations at the Bozar Center for Fine Arts curated by Kendell Geers & Sindika Dokolo and the The 3rd Beijing Photo Biennial at CAFA Art Museum. He was chosen as one of PDN’s 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch in 2016, is a recipient of the Visura Grant 2017, the Getty Reportage Grant 2018 and participated in the Joop Swart Masterclass 2018. ‘Primordial Earth’, his latest project, was shown at the Lubumbashi Biennale and at the Rencontres de Bamako where it was awarded the ‘Prix de l’OIF’, and featured in his first institutional solo show in Belgium at the Brussels Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR). In 2021, Pongo was shortlisted for the CAP Prize. His work is also part of institutional and private collections.