Imagery in the Congo: Provocative and Emotional Elements Forward the Movement
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SubjectCongo (Democratic Republic)--History; Léopold II, King of the Belgians, 1835-1909.; Bang, Molly; Lipps, Theodor, 1851-1914; Congo Reform Association
The brutal exploitation of people and resources carried out in the Congo Free State (1885-1908) led to the Congo Reform Movement, a broadly successful international humanitarian movement. The success of this movement owed much to the haunting imagery, including photographs, oil paintings, and drawings, produced by the reformers. In this oral presentation, I use art history techniques to examine what specifically made these images so provocative. Historians have already analyzed how the content of these images, which often featured severed hands, evoked the sympathy of audiences. I add to this understanding by arguing that the formal elements of these pieces, such as color contrast, positioning, and mannerisms also made these images extremely effective. In particular, I use Molly Bang's theories featured in her book, Picture This: Perception & Composition, alongside Theodor Lipp's Theory of Einfühlung, or sympathy, to analyze the formal elements of three photographs and two drawings chosen from among the significant pieces used by the Reform Movement. For example, I analyze the oft-reproduced photo of a Congolese father, Nsala, gazing at the horror of the severed hand of his deceased daughter. In addition to the emotionally charged content of the photo, the man's curved back and positioning, I argue, evoke more sympathy and understanding from the audience than an angular and rigid posture would have evoked. In addition, I compare and contrast pieces to show how seemingly dissimilar images are employing similar elements to elicit viewers' pity. This argument contributes to the history of the Congo Reform Movement by showing how the images themselves, and not just their content, channeled audiences' sympathy and impacted Western perspectives on the Congo.