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PHOTOS: Congolese artists channel 'Mad Max' and Chewbacca with costumes made of trash

Nada Thsibwabwa poses in a robot-like costume that he created using old mobile phones, in Matonge district, Kinshasa. The country is a major producer of coltan, an ore used in cellphones and other electronics.
Colin Delfosse
Nada Thsibwabwa poses in a robot-like costume that he created using old mobile phones, in Matonge district, Kinshasa. The country is a major producer of coltan, an ore used in cellphones and other electronics.

There's a man wearing a suit of rubbery old car parts, like he's an extra in the film "Mad Max." A woman covered in a jumble of colorful wires from head to toe. And someone posing in a magnificent, Chewbacca-looking getup made out of ... hundreds upon hundreds of unrolled condoms.

These fantastical costumes – fashioned out of trash, found objects and other materials — were created by artists in the Democratic Republic of Congo to highlight the capital city's problems, including pollution, poverty, lack of health care and overconsumption.

But they also highlight the resilience and beauty of its people, captured in a set of striking portraits by Belgian-based photojournalist Colin Delfosse in 2019. He took them after the KinAct Festival, an annual event that brings African and European art to the streets of Kinshasa.

"What inspired me" to take the photos, he says, "was the creativity."

During the festival, the Congolese artists walked and danced around the city in their elaborate costumes. The idea behind this performance, wrote Delfosse on his website, was to "initiate a dialogue [about Kinshasa's social issues] with the city's inhabitants."

Congolese artist Florian Sinanduku, for example, wore an outfit made out of hundreds of packets of pills. The goal was to raise awareness around counterfeit medicines. "Finding medicine is a big issue" in the DRC, he said. "You never know where it comes from and what it is made out of." Indeed, a 2017 report from the World Health Organization found that a majority of the world's fake or substandard drugs come from Africa.

Artist Junior Mungongu donned an ensemble constructed out of plastic bottles and lids to condemn the city's use of single-use plastics. When he walked around the city in his costume, he asked people to screw their used bottles onto the lids. The city struggles with waste management, including plastic waste.

These photos will be on display at a group exhibition for the Meitar Award for Excellence in Photography in Tel Aviv, Israel in November. Delfosse shares any profits from these shows with the artists. "If I sell a photo in an exhibition," he says, "the artists get 50%."

Here's a selection of images, taken in Kinshasa, from Delfosse's series "Fulu Act."

Junior Mungongu shows off the costume he created out of plastic bottles and lids.
/ Colin Delfosse
/
Colin Delfosse
Junior Mungongu shows off the costume he created out of plastic bottles and lids.
Jean Precy Numbi Samba poses in an ensemble made from used car parts.
/ Colin Delfosse
/
Colin Delfosse
Jean Precy Numbi Samba poses in an ensemble made from used car parts.
Florian Sinanduku's costume, made of packs of pills, is a statement against counterfeit drugs.
/ Colin Delfosse
/
Colin Delfosse
Florian Sinanduku's costume, made of packs of pills, is a statement against counterfeit drugs.
David Baketimina wears the costume he created out of artificial hair. "Traditionally, hair was a way for [women in the DRC] to communicate" their beauty, he says. But with the commercialization and popularity of wigs, weaves and other artificial hair in the country, he says "women have lost their identity."
/ Colin Delfosse
/
Colin Delfosse
David Baketimina wears the costume he created out of artificial hair. "Traditionally, hair was a way for [women in the DRC] to communicate" their beauty, he says. But with the commercialization and popularity of wigs, weaves and other artificial hair in the country, he says "women have lost their identity."
Look closer and you'll see that Tickson Mbuyi's Chewbacca-looking costume is actually made of unrolled condoms. He wears it at the Bon Marché district of Kinshasa, a popular nightlife neighborhood — and hopes that it draws attention to "the inconsistent use of condoms in the DRC," says Delfosse.
/ Colin Delfosse
/
Colin Delfosse
Look closer and you'll see that Tickson Mbuyi's Chewbacca-looking costume is actually made of unrolled condoms. He wears it at the Bon Marché district of Kinshasa, a popular nightlife neighborhood — and hopes that it draws attention to "the inconsistent use of condoms in the DRC," says Delfosse.
Falonne Mambu models her suit made of electric wires, which represents her country's aspiration to be a major generator of electricity. Although DRC is home to two powerful hydroelectric dams, they operate at minimal capacity — and only 19% of the country's population has access to electricity, according to USAID.
/ Colin Delfosse
/
Colin Delfosse
Falonne Mambu models her suit made of electric wires, which represents her country's aspiration to be a major generator of electricity. Although DRC is home to two powerful hydroelectric dams, they operate at minimal capacity — and only 19% of the country's population has access to electricity, according to USAID.

Jonathan Shipley is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. His writing has appeared recently on BBC Travel, Discover Magazine, and Earth Island Journal.

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