Guy Tillim, City Hall offices, Lubumbashi, DR Congo, 2007
In many African cities, there are streets, avenues and squares named after Patrice Lumumba, one of the first elected African leaders of modern times, winning the Congo election after independence from Belgium in 1960. His speech at the independence celebrations in Léopoldville, in the presence of the Belgian King, Baudouin, unequivocally signalled his opposition to the West's idea of neo-colonial order that would replace overt domination with indirect control. He was assassinated in January 1961 by Belgian agents after UN complicity in the secession of the provinces of Katanga and South Kasai, and a Western power-supported military coup led by Mobutu Sese Seko. Today his image as a nationalist visionary necessarily remains unmolested by the accusations of abuse of power that became synonymous with later African heads of state.
Avenue Patrice Lumumba by Guy Tillim is an examination of modern history in Africa against the backdrop of its colonial and post-colonial architectural heritage. It travels through numerous African countries, including Mozambique, Angola and The Democratic Republic of Congo.
In this project, the South African photographer Guy Tillim (1962, Johannesburg) departs from the late-modernist architectural structures that shaped the colonial landscape of conflicts in recent decades. However, the transitional and hybrid sceneries and spaces he depicts do not merely testify to conflict and an oppressive past, decay and violently contested ideologies. They speak equally of the aspirations for liberation and progress in the post-colonial era.
"These photographs are not collapsed histories of post-colonial African states or a meditation on aspects of late-modernist colonial structures, but a walk through avenues of dreams. Patrice Lumumba's dream, his nationalism, is discernible in the structures, if one reads certain clues, as is the death of his dream, in these de facto monuments. How strange that modernism, which eschewed monument and past for nature and future, should carry such memory so well." Guy Tillim
Guy Tillim has received a number of awards and grants for his photography. These include the Leica Oskar Barnack Award in 2005 and the first Robert Gardner Fellowship in Photography from the Peabody Museum at Harvard University in 2006. Works from Avenue Patrice Lumumba series have recently been exhibited at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris and the Museu Serralves, Porto, FOAM in Amsterdam and Extra City _ Kunsthal Antwerp among others.
Tillim was born in Johannesburg in 1962. He started photographing professionally in 1986 and joined Afrapix, a collective of South African photographers with whom he worked closely until 1990. His work as a freelance photographer in South Africa for the local and foreign media included positions with Reuters between 1986 and 1988, and Agence France Presse in 1993 and 1994. Tillim has received many awards for his work including the Prix SCAM (Societe Civile des Auteurs Multimedia) Roger Pic in 2002, the Higashikawa Overseas Photographer Award (Japan) in 2003, the 2004 DaimlerChrysler Award for South African photography, the Leica Oskar Barnack Award in 2005 and the first Robert Gardner Fellowship in Photography from the Peabody Museum at Harvard University in 2006. He held solo exhibitions at Haus für Kunst, Altdorf, and Haunch of Venison, Zurich, in 2008. Recent group exhibitions include Great Expectations: Contemporary photography looks at today's Bitter Years at Casino Luxembourg - Forum of Contemporary Art, Luxembourg (2009); The Face of Our Time at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2009); Peripheral Vision and Collective Body at the Museion, Bolzano, Italy (2008); Home Lands - Land Marks at Haunch of Venison, London (2008); Documenta 12 (2007); the São Paulo Bienal (2006); SLUM: Art and life in the here and now of the civil age at the Neue Galerie in Graz; Photography, Video, Mixed Media III at the DaimlerChrysler Gallery in Berlin; and the travelling exhibition Africa Remix (2004-2007). His work is included in Vitamin Ph (Phaidon, 2006)