Focusing on a movement of Congolese street artists in the slums of Kinshasa that ‘feed on chaos’, Systeme K is provocative filmmaking purely due to the inspiring group of people it follows. ‘This entire city is sick’, decries Freddy, a sculptor and visual artist who builds nightmarish pieces out of rusting bullet casings and machetes found on the street. Just as the world has recycled the raw materials of the Congo into products, Freddy believes that by recycling these objects and exhibiting them on crowded junctions his art can make a powerful political statement. Alongside him are a band of young and passionate non-conformists creating imaginative work railing against the bleak reality of their nation. The ‘Kongo Astronaute’ is a prime example of the blistering satire at the centre of their work – roaming the streets in a makeshift gold spacesuit ironically declaring the Kinshasa air breathable in a robotic voice.
In fact, all of the artists included in the film show profound resourcefulness and bravery in fighting Congo’s authoritative government – their impromptu art installations putting them at risk of imprisonment and possible execution. The most tragic (and brilliant) work comes from Geraldine who, after being accused of being a witch as a child, claims to have become ‘one with the smoke’ after a number of exorcisms involving candle wax and incense. Using a gaslight instead of paint to mark the canvas, her tableaus are at once haunting and deeply impressive.
All importantly, the movement’s work is welcomed by their unwitting audience, making the work of Banksy look mild and sterile in comparison. Their upbeat adamance is reflected by the film’s afrobeat soundtrack, often music composed by the artists out of makeshift instruments, emphasising just how much creativity can come from extreme poverty. Potent and rousing, director Renaud Barret lets the artists speak for themselves, giving global access to a movement that feels urgent and resonant beyond the reaches of the Congo.
Director: Renaud Barret