Photographer Stéphan Gladieu Documents the Congolese Street Children Turning Waste into Wonder

Image by Stéphan Gladieu

Image by Stéphan Gladieu

Artists in the Congo are continuing the deeply meaningful traditional practice of creating religious ritual costumes but through a provocative modern lens by crafting them out of the refuse exported by the developed world. The illegal export of plastic and electronic waste to poorer countries, such as the Congo, Malaysia and Indonesia has often displaced the natural environments that would've provided materials traditionally used to make these ritual costumes. Striking a balance between vibrant visuals, playful stances, and at times claustrophobic masses of waste, the artists of the Congo give us a shining example of creating a stimulating aesthetic experience with limited materials to work with.

"“So dramatic, so strong, so visual,” artist Stéphan Gladieu said of his first encounter with the revival of an ancestral folk art movement in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Kinshasa is the capital of Congo but also one of the many places American and European countries send their waste. Though doing so is illegal, wealthier nations still export tons of debris with the knowledge that these places do not have the resources to treat or recycle it. Instead, these discards sit, swell, and slowly drown everything around them.

In the face of this ecological disaster, the young people of Kinshasa began to repurpose the waste into traditional religious costumes that were previously destroyed, along with other cultural histories and rituals, by the forced Catholicism of colonization. Gladieu’s relationship with these artists has evolved into the Homo Détritus series." Read More and See the Homo Détritus Art Series at COLOSSAL