Video installation, loop
To this day one sees in Belgium a distinctive ugliness, dating from the time when the Congo colony was exploited without restraint and manifested in the macabre atmosphere of certain salons and the strikingly stunted growth of the population, such as one rarely comes across elsewhere.
W. G. Sebald
By their very presence, our bodies—hairy, fat, and bow-legged—befouled public swimming pools, yes, even park benches. Our hideous faces, depraved and spoilt by protruding ears and hanging noses, were disgusting to our fellow men, fellow citizens of yesterday.
On being a foreigner. On dehumanization which always starts with language.
UBUNDU, is a film poem by Jelena Juresa, inspired by the writings of W. G. Sebald and his comments on the ‘ugliness of Belgium’ as a result of spreading amnesia and the participation of all Belgians in the exploitation of Congolese riches.
Filmed at Antwerp Zoo, UBUNDU portrays the okapi, an animal exhibited for the first time in Antwerp in 1919. The portrait of the animal—that can only breed in captivity outside of the DRC—is juxtaposed with the voice-over acting out, shouting and singing the wounds of displacement and non-belonging.
In his most notable novels, Austerlitz and The Rings of Saturn, Sebald circumnavigates the sites of radicalised violence, tracing the line between the Holocaust and colonialism. Antwerp Zoo and the European railway system have an important place in Sebald’s writing: the expansion of the railways enabled the development of capitalist production and transnational transport, becoming the symbol of their age, whilst also enabling mass deportations and genocide.
Because of her intention to incorporate Sebald’s phrase about the “Ugliness of Belgium” in her new work, Juresa has been declined official permission to film the Okapi at Antwerp Zoo.
Filmed secretly, with a Bolex 16mm camera, each take is less than half a minute long.
Written by: Asa Mendelsohn and Jelena Jureša
Director of Photography: Sébastien Cros
Assistance to principal photography: Jasmijn Cedee
Voice: Evelien van den Broek
Sound recording and sound design: Slobodan Bajić
Editing: Jelena Jureša
Producers / for Contour9: Fleur van Muiswinkel, Alyssa Decq
Color grading: Josja van Zadelhoff (Charbon Studio)
Mastering: Charbon Studio
‘Ubundu’ is commissioned by Contour Biennale 9 and Argos, centre for audiovisual arts.
Supported by KASK School of Arts and HoGent.
Contour Biennale 9, photo: Lavinia Wouters