Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A day of disconcerting work.

This afternoon, a pleasant one with thin high clouds, we figured we might as well start deep-frying these things. The process of finishing off the hands was pretty noxious, but yielded some truly off-putting objects. The lovely golden hue that a well-fried item acquires is evident here in these photos: the effect on the appetite is a sort of push-me-pull-you of enticement and vague horror. The meat of the hands is pink and firm. It looks almost raw under the thin coat of breading. The skin has cracked and drawn back, thin and black and crackling. In a certain light, these look pretty good.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Ryan has been hard at work mocking up our hands. At this point, they look appropriately gruesome. Follow this link to the website of Karl Ammann, a Swiss wildlife photographer and documentarian of the bushmeat trade. It isn't difficult to notice that the threat to rare populations of primates has brought more attention to bear on the situation in Congo than any coverage of war, genocide, refugees or slave-labor ever managed. That's a further depth we are interested in plumbing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Finally a break in the weather; the cart itself is almost complete. It rolls pretty well, although I don't think I'd want to push it through the streets of Kinshasa all day. Now we need some hands.
A little further. We are dodging the rain.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Under Construction

Salvaged wood and aluminum, bicycle wheels, and tinkering; the cart is taking shape. We'll be debuting it at PLACE Gallery in downtown Portland next month.
As we develop the central object here, our ideas about what we are trying to communicate are developing as well. Trying to express this long and torturous history through a single object is a challenge, and we're constantly reminded that there is a great and general lack of knowledge about Sub-Saharan Africa in America. Certainly there's a broad ignorance of the US role in the destabilization of Congo after its independence from Belgium, but the activities of Belgium and King Leopold prior to that era are almost entirely unfamiliar. It's partly the process that Belgium's vicious colonial regime set in place that we are after here: when people in Congo rebelled against the brutal enforcement of rubber-harvest quotas, they were punished by having their hands amputated. The institution of a bounty for the hands of runaways led to unscrupulous enforcers chopping off every hand they could find, piling pirogues high with mounds of them. The trauma of this era and these practices has deeply permeated the culture of the Congo (and of Belgium), and the severed hand appears again and again as history grinds through the forests and mountains of the Congo region.