Photographer Georges Senga Assani’s work is about the issues of identity, heritage, and history. All of these issues are connected to an idea of »memory« – memory that is captured in the houses we live in and the objects inside them. Thus, inheritance conflicts can be painful for those who would like to keep their memories instead of selling them. In his photography series Cette maison n’est pas à vendre et à vendre (This House is Not For Sale and For Sale) shown at Akademie Schloss Solitude Senga shows houses in the middle of these often contentious fights in two countries: Brazil and his home country DR Congo – which has a unique way of dealing with this crisis publicly.
Mareen Wrobel: What is your project about and where does your interest come from? Is there a (personal) story and or initial moment that started this interest?
Georges Senga Assani: My project speaks of value; in this value I see memory in relation to situations. And these situations refer to the urge to keep or to lose something. The topic for this show first caught my attention when my family home was in the situation of conflicted inheritance in 2009-2010. After that I started taking photographs of the houses in my neighborhood.
In Africa people talk publicly about conflicts of family heritage and although you find those conflicts anywhere in the world they are not presented in the same way as in Africa.
Concerning our family home it was only a short period of time when it was happing, a few family men wanted to sell the house, while the others did not want that at all. The part of the family who were against the sale put great writing with oil paint on the house »this house is not for sale.« This message would be a warning for anyone who would like to interact to buy the house. This was the moment when I started to ask myself, why do people need to write this on their houses publicly…Is it about respect for the memory of the person who leaves you this house as heritage?
MW: Whose houses did you photograph, are they familiar?
GSA: The houses I have photographed are familiar to me because they are in the neighborhood where I grew up, in the commune of Katuba.
MW:Why do you put your focus on the two countries Congo and Brazil? In what ways do the different contexts interfere?
GSA: The project is called »this house is not for sale and for sale.« People have two kinds of opinions, some of them agree with selling their houses and some of them disagree: I chose Brazil because I also wanted to explore another way to represent the conflict of heritages.
In DR Congo I photographed the photos of the houses that are not for sale from inside, because seeing the objects from the inside made me get closer to the story of the house and the memory of the owner from who the present owners got the house.
The houses from Brazil are in Praia Grande and they are disappearing because of new constructions of high buildings. The houses »for sale« have memory and history but at the same time they are on view for sale; in that way they are losing their history and memory.
I decided to photograph objects in the areas of those houses to reconstitute the history and the memory of the houses. The object and the houses are on view for people, but the objects are for free and the houses are for sale.
MW: Who paints these messages on the houses?
Putting paint on the houses in Congo is a very crucial and honorable matter for families. It puts the family in a very uncomfortable position to know that they have this message on their house. The person in the family who decides to take responsibility is the one who writes the message on the house. In Brazil some houses have printed signs and some of them are painted as well.
MW: Why do you think it is so important for people to keep these memories, do you personally feel the same way?
My work is, mainly about the issues of identity, heritage, and history. All of these three issues are connected to an idea of »memory« – the memory of who we are, what we have, and where we come from. These objects that are inside the houses have personal and material value so losing a house is considered losing the memory of the family.
MW: Can a memory even be an object in your opinion?
MW: What is your perspective on the inside versus the outside of the houses – as we can see it in your pictures?
The objects inside the houses show the existence of a life and tell the stories of different periods of the house. The objects photographed in the exterior reconstruct the daily life of the houses. When I saw those objects on the street I thought how now they are in view to everyone and they use to be intimate.
MW:You started the series in late 2014. Are you also revisiting the area to document the evolution of the same properties?
The photos are taken between the end of 2014 and the end of 2016, I have visited the houses again in order to take photos of the interior of the house.