Early in Renaud Barret’s documentary, one of his profiled artists observes that the act of living in Kinshasa is creating art in itself. Système K provides a fearless platform through which the street artists in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital voice their philosophies and passions, as they turn cast-off materials into striking political statements. Landfill scavengings become harsh, haunting representations of the change they work tirelessly to bring about.
Watching machetes welded together, plastic melting in iridescent pools, and smoke creating quasi-impressionist dreamscapes on wood is mesmerising; hearing the artists’ reasoning behind their methods makes their passion tangible. Emblems of violence turn into signs of life: a house is made from machetes, and bullet cases become abstract human figures holding flags and crosses, building a new life.
Kinshasa unfolds as a vibrant, volatile place through Barret’s lens, which picks up the city through the words and experiences of its inhabitants. Each section of the film is dedicated to a new artist in the collective, whose often witty articulations of the class divides, political systems, gender discrimination, and religious oppression that their art addresses drives home the immediacy of their work. A particularly harrowing segment sees two former “child witches” confronting their past through fiery mediums.
The artists often endanger their lives by working with toxic materials and deliberately provoking police and state responses. These arrests and (literally and figuratively) bloody statements are recounted in a matter-of-fact manner; there is no need to sensationalise when the urgency is so great.
Système K never exaggerates the gravity and skill of these artists’ works. The film’s respect for and commitment to sharing their relentless need to create in the face of resistance and poverty drives home the force of their resolve and ingenuity. The resulting picture of resistance is masterful.
CAST: Freddy, Béni, Kongo Astronaute, Geraldine, Strombo, Majesktik, Kokoko!
DIRECTOR: Renaud Barret
WRITER: Renaud Barret
SYNOPSIS: Documentary filmmaker Renaud Barret encounters a group of bold, political multimedia artists who create urgent art on, and for, the streets of Kinshasa.