Richard Mosse’s Enclave in Congo – Dreamlike & disturbing

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Richard Mosse - Vintage violence, 2011, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Richard Mosse – Vintage violence, 2011

Published: November 11, 2016

Last updated:

Introduction

In his work across eastern Congo, Richard Mosse focused on capturing the disturbing images of rebel groups fighting as they move from one place to another. The work displays the devastation brought about by the war such as massacres, refugees, and systematic sexual violence. The entire journey across the country took four years – from 2010 to 2014. The international press usually ignores the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, making Mosse’s work even more valuable and important.

The commanding project The Enclave (2013) captures the eastern Congo – a land that is deceptively seductive and alluring from an outside eye. Mosse bases his photos on invisible edges of devastations and incommunicable horror. Enclave transcends art by also encompassing anthropology and journalism. It was produced by means of a recently superseded military film technology designed in World War II to reveal camouflaged mechanisms concealed within the landscape. In his journeys across eastern Congo, Mosse collaborated with Trevor Tweeten – 16 mm cinematography, and Ben Frost – sound design.

The story of the Democratic Republic of Congo needed to be told by someone, but no one was willing to venture into the dangerous, war-torn jungle during the rainy season. Mosse in one interview said that he preferred working in such environments because the “landscape turns into a sublime assault course – frail humanity versus overwhelming equatorial forces of nature. Think plane crashes, hemorrhagic fever, malaria, cars driving off cliffs.”

Richard Mosse - Commodius Vicus, 2015

Richard Mosse – Commodius Vicus, 2015

The conflict in Congo

Congo’s conflict has, depending on your version of history, been going (on and off) for over 100 years, following the annexation of the Congo by Belgium’s King Leopold in 19081. The conflict has continued more consistently since 1997. Like the mainstream media, the international political community has largely turned its back on the Congo. Recurrent massacres, human rights violations, and prevalent sexual violence2 continue on, The Enclave attempts to bring to light this forgotten, to make this humanitarian disaster unforgotten and visible.

According to Richard Mosse, there are over 30 rebel groups in the region of eastern Congo. Most of them comprising of young men that “many of them used to have an ideology, but they’ve long since forgotten it. They fall into alliances with each other, and then renounce them.”

Richard Mosse - Of Lillies and Remains, North Kivu, eastern Congo, 2012, digital C print, 72 x 90 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery

Richard Mosse – Of Lillies and Remains, North Kivu, eastern Congo, 2012

Why we don’t hear about this conflict

The works are rendered in vivid tones of lavender, crimson and pink. Mosse utilized this film to document the ongoing conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo3, in which 5.4 million people have died since 1998 and is fundamentally ignored by the mass media4.

The reason why the news never reaches the mainstream society is partly topographical. Congo receives four rainy seasons each year, making the jungle voracious. The groups of people are in constant movement, making it hard for the news of massacres and rape to get out of the jungle in time.

By the time photographers arrive, there is nothing left to see. It was this lack of trace that interested me, and ultimately the failure of documentary photography. Conflict is complicated and unresolvable, and it’s not always easy to find the concrete subject, the issue, and put it in front of the lens.”

Richard Mosse - Safe From Harm, North Kivu, eastern Congo, 2012 Digital C print, 48 x 60 inches, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery

Richard Mosse – Safe From Harm, North Kivu, eastern Congo, 2012

A little about Richard Mosse

Richard Mosse is known throughout his conceptual documentary photography career for challenging society using photojournalism. This was laid bare in his work in the Democratic Republic of Congo – Enclave, which took the world by surprise in the same measure as the conflict it explores. Mosse gained worldwide recognition for these infrared images depicting the effects of war and refugee situation.

He is an Irish native, and was born in 1980 but lives in New York. He earned his masters of fine arts from Yale School of Art in 2008 and a postgraduate diploma, also in Fine Arts, from London-based Goldsmith in 2005. Mosse has worked in other countries faced with a humanitarian crisis such as Pakistan, Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Haiti, and former Yugoslavia.

Kodak Aerochrome

For Enclave, Richard Mosse employed the use of a large-format camera alongside the infamous Kodak Aerochrome film, which is now discontinued. Kodak Aerochrome infrared film was developed in the 1940s by the U.S. military to identify camouflaged figures.

The film was hard to use even for the military. Coupling that with the fact that DR. Congo is a sizeable impassable country, it is no telling how hard it was for Mosse to create the Enclave images. However, what helped him was that he started practicing using the Aerochrome film back in 2009. The film registers infrared light usually invisible to the human eye and turning the resulting landscape into vivid shades of lavender, hot pink, and crimson.

Richard Mosse was inspired to try the Aerochrome film when the manufacturer announced it was discontinuing its production: “It’s a very eccentric medium. I thought it might put me in an uncomfortable place where I didn’t know what I was doing, and that is a good place to be as an artist. Originally it had been used to reveal enemy camouflage, so I asked myself, where is an unseen narrative? Where is the most unlikely place you would use this film?Richard Mosse in The Telegraph, 1 Apr 20145

Mosse published a book in 2011, which received considerate approval from readers and the world in general. The thought of producing a movie based on Enclave appeared again to him shortly after publishing the book. But the journey took him back to eastern Congo again with Trevor Tweeten – the filmmaker. The quest to process a film appeared to be a pipe dream when they only had 35 reels of film, which lasted about 11 minutes each, as well as an old Arriflex SR2 movie camera.

Photo of Richard Mosse

Photo of Richard Mosse

Unusual colors

Traditionally, the palette of war photography has been portrayed as brown, green, black, and red. But in Enclave, Richard Mosse uses camouflage, dirt, guns, and blood. He shone new light on the way conflict is covered.

Explaining why he uses these new approaches, Richard Mosse states: I go to great lengths to keep my work as open as possible in terms of significance, trying especially hard to avoid didacticism. So the viewer can bring whatever they like to the work and its unusual colors. I suppose for me, though, the colors are deeply emotional, as I have developed a strong affinity for eastern Congo over my many journeys in the region. So, for me, it’s a deeply personal response, rather than a deliberately didactic provocation. If people are moved by the work to take a longer look at the humanitarian disaster in eastern Congo, that is superb.

Richard Mosse - Invasive Exotics, 2012. Digital c-print. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Richard Mosse – Invasive Exotics, 2012

Mosse’s installation

Mosse’s work comprises six double-sided screens installed in a large darkened room, thus producing a corporeally immersive experience. This disorienting and variegated art project is supposed to visually parallel eastern Congo’s complex conflict, bewildering expectations by compelling the audience to interact with the imagery from a collection of divergent viewpoints. Collaborator and sound designer Ben Frost composed audio that plays in the background through the six channels.

Richard Mosse - Installation view, The Enclave, 2012–2013. 16 mm infrared film transferred to HD video. Produced in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Richard Mosse – The Enclave, 2012–2013, 16 mm infrared film transferred to HD video. installation view, produced in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

Video interview: Richard Mosse & The Impossible Image
7 min 21 sec
Journeys in the Congo

During his journeys in the Congo, Mosse would stay in Catholic missions and interact with as many people as possible. And the more he interacted with people, the more he met more rebels, and the more complex his understanding of the situation became.

Mosse could travel long distances to encounter with rebels. He said: “You’d take a Land Cruiser as far as you could go, about half a day depending on rain, and then you’d walk, stay a night, and then walk another day until you passed the front line and into the enclave. Once you’re in there, time changes, as does logic. Some of these rebels believe they are bulletproof.

Most of the times, Mosse would spend time alone to “appreciate the retreat into your imagination that happens. I love the black canvas,” and “spending time watching lizards creeping up on clouds of mosquitoes.”

Richard Mosse - Sugar Ray, 2012

Richard Mosse – Sugar Ray, 2012

Return to UK & Challenges

When he returned to the U.K. from Congo, he started to look for means to convert the images into a film, but he was short of cash. Mosse said: “I almost didn’t process the film, I was so horrified by my impending bankruptcy. I was looking for jobs as a dishwasher.”

But upon looking at the image of the landscape shot he had taken. “I almost ignored it because it was a pretty picture, then I realized what had been staring at me in the face the whole time. The pink pushed the viewer into this extraordinary space, way past the threshold of the imagination and into science fiction, something pulsating, nauseous. We don’t see in pink, but we don’t see it black and white either. Whichever way you look at it, documentary photography is a constructed way of seeing the world.”

Another problem was to find someone willing to process the film. “I went from lab to lab thinking. I am ruined, I can’t do anything with this amazing footage. But at last, I found an old-timer in Denver. It took him six months but finally, he cracked it.”

Richard Mosse - At Home he is a Tourist, 2012, Courtesy of The Vinyl Factory

Richard Mosse – At Home he is a Tourist, 2012

A final trip to Congo & Near-death experience

The artist took a trip back to Congo for cathartic reasons. “I went to get closure, to say goodbye. I’d hired a car, and the driver was so arrogant, he drove off a bridge. It flipped, fell about 25 feet. We all survived, but I had to perform first aid on in the middle of a cloud of mosquitoes, in the middle of a swamp, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere with all my cameras everywhere, and I thought this is it, I’m finished. I’m finished with Congo.” Richard Mosse said about his ordeal when he went back to Congo.

Richard Mosse - Before the Flood, 2015

Richard Mosse – Before the Flood, 2015

Analysis

When one views the images, they will mesmerize with the beauty and seductiveness of the landscape of the region. However, when the reality finally sinks in, the colors suddenly becomes less fantastical and become more grotesque and terrifying. The image of an innocent boy suddenly brings into sharp focus the rifle he is carrying. The appealing trees in the background throw into sharper relief the ragged tents, skeletons, and tombstones.

The world created by the images is without rules, and metaphorically, not even the rules of color. Enclave forces the reality to the face of the society in a more profound manner than the mainstream coverage of war many are used to. Richard Mosse uses the simple act of modifying the palate of the landscapes to alter the perceptions of society on war and chaos. He uses provocation to evoke strong reactions to situations that the masses are accustomed to by their spread into our day-to-day lives.

Enclave, alongside other works by Mosse, revolves around the idea that the ubiquity of images from conflict zones has somehow managed to desensitize the society to the mayhems of war. Mosse challenges society to rethink how it thinks about the war. Enclave confronts the audience with ‘looking’ differently as well as forcing them to recognize the power dynamics of viewing the mages and the performance and depiction involved in the image staring back as the optics and technologies of war.

Richard Mosse - First we take Manhattan, 2012, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Richard Mosse – First we take Manhattan, 2012

Conclusion

The imagery is both psychedelic and disturbing, Mosse’s view makes the forgotten unforgettable, the devastation that is currently invisible to mainstream society something that will never be unseen. It is important that the international community not forgets nor ignores what has happened and continues to happen in the area. Families torn apart, prominence of violence and death stemming from the conflict, neighbors turning into enemies- this should never be forgotten. For those who visit Mosse’s installation, it is very likely that the conflict that the images portray will never be forgotten.

At the heart of the project is the artist’s exploration of the paradoxes and the perimeters of the abilities of art “to represent narratives so painful that they beyond language – and photography’s capacity to document specific tragedies and communicate them to the world.” Mosse stated. The role played by Enclave in bringing to light the atrocities shunned by the society, cannot be downplayed. “But we don’t hear about it, because they’re dying from lack of sovereignty and constant displacement, shitty diseases.”

Photos

Landscapes

Richard Mosse - Remain in Light, 2015
Richard Mosse – Remain in Light, 2015

Richard Mosse - Everything Merges with the Night, 2015
Richard Mosse – Everything Merges with the Night, 2015

Richard Mosse - Beaucoups of Blues, 2012
Richard Mosse – Beaucoups of Blues, 2012

Richard Mosse - The Crystal World, 2011
Richard Mosse – The Crystal World, 2011

Richard Mosse - Tombstone Blues, 2012
Richard Mosse – Tombstone Blues, 2012

Richard Mosse - Nowhere To Run, 2012
Richard MosseNowhere To Run, 2012

Richard Mosse - Platon, 2012. Digital c-print. © Richard Mosse. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Richard MossePlaton, 2012

Richard Mosse - Poison Glen, South Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2012 Digital C print, 50 x 80 inches, Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery
Richard MossePoison Glen, South Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2012

Richard Mosse - Lac Vert, 2012, from The Enclave (Aperture, 2013)
Richard MosseLac Vert, 2012

Richard Mosse - Thousands are Sailing I, 2012  Digital c-print, ed. 2 of 5  40 x 50 in, Image courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Richard MosseThousands are Sailing I, 2012

Richard Mosse - Thousands Are Sailing II, North Kivu, eastern Congo, 2012, Sammlung von Kelterborn, Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Carlier Gebauer and Jack Shainman Gallery
Richard MosseThousands Are Sailing II, North Kivu, eastern Congo, 2012

Richard Mosse - Untitled Transient, 2012. Digital c-print. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Richard MosseUntitled Transient, 2012

Richard Mosse - Weeping Song, 2012. Digital c-print. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Richard MosseWeeping Song, 2012

Richard Mosse - Hombo Walikale, 2012, Digital c-print
Richard MosseHombo Walikale, 2012

Richard Mosse - I Shall Be Released, 2015 - Digital c-print - 102cm x 127cm - Edition of five + 1AP
Richard MosseI Shall Be Released, 2015

Richard Mosse
Richard Mosse

Richard Mosse
Richard Mosse

Richard Mosse
Richard Mosse

Richard Mosse - Stalemate, 2011
Richard Mosse – Stalemate, 2011

Portraits

Richard Mosse - Madonna and Child, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2012 Digital C print, 35 x 28 inches. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery
Richard MosseMadonna and Child, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2012

Richard Mosse - Only Love Can Break Your Heart, 2012, from The Enclave (Aperture, 2013). Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery
Richard MosseOnly Love Can Break Your Heart, 2012, from The Enclave (Aperture, 2013)

Richard Mosse - Protection, North Kivu, eastern Congo, 2012, digital C print, 60 x 48 inches. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery
Richard MosseProtection, North Kivu, East Congo, 2012

Richard Mosse - She Brings the Rain, 2011
Richard MosseShe Brings the Rain, 2011

Richard Mosse - Sonic Youth, 2012
Richard MosseSonic Youth, 2012

Richard Mosse - Suspicious Minds, 2012 digital c-print 48 x 60 inches
Richard MosseSuspicious Minds, 2012

Richard Mosse - Two Soldiers- Man-Size, North Kivu, eastern Congo, 2011 Digital C print, 72 x 90 inches, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery
Richard MosseTwo Soldiers- Man-Size, North Kivu, eastern Congo, 2011

Richard Mosse - Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams, North Kivu, eastern Congo, digital C print, 60 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery
Richard MosseWrap Your Troubles In Dreams, North Kivu, eastern Congo

Richard Mosse – Triumph of the Will, ARDC soldiers demonstrate the purpose of an old Belgian commando training structure at Rumangabo military base, North Kivu
Richard Mosse – Triumph of the Will, ARDC soldiers demonstrate the purpose of an old Belgian commando training structure at Rumangabo military base, North Kivu

Richard Mosse - Drag 2012, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Richard MosseDrag, 2012

Richard Mosse - Higher ground, 2012, C photograph, 227.0 × 185.0 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Richard MosseHigher ground, 2012

Richard Mosse
Richard Mosse

Richard Mosse – Birdland, Fizi, South Kivu, 2012
Richard Mosse – Birdland, Fizi, South Kivu, 2012

Richard Mosse – Better than the real thing II
Richard Mosse – Better than the real thing II

Richard Mosse
Richard Mosse

Groups

Richard Mosse - Tutsi Town, 2010
Richard Mosse – Tutsi Town, 2010

Richard Mosse - La Vie En Rose, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2010
Richard MosseLa Vie En Rose, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2010

Richard Mosse - Lost Fun Zone, North Kivu, eastern Congo, 2012, digital C print, 72 x 90 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery
Richard MosseLost Fun Zone, North Kivu, eastern Congo, 2012

Richard Mosse - Colonel Soleils Boys, 2010, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Richard MosseColonel Soleils Boys, 2010

Others

Richard Mosse - Simple Twist of Fate, 2012
Richard MosseSimple Twist of Fate, 2012

Richard Mosse - The Enclave, 2012-13, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, 16mm infrared film transferred to HD video
Richard MosseThe Enclave, 2012-13, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, 16mm infrared film transferred to HD video

Richard Mosse - Wave of Mutilation, 2012
Richard MosseWave of Mutilation, 2012

Richard Mosse - Better Than The Real Thing, North Kivu, eastern Congo, 2012, Jack Shainman Gallery and carlier | gebauer
Richard MosseBetter Than The Real Thing, North Kivu, eastern Congo, 2012

Richard Mosse - Heartbreak Hotel, 2012, from The Enclave (Aperture, 2013)
Richard MosseHeartbreak Hotel, 2012

Richard Mosse
Richard Mosse

Venice Biennale, 2013

In 2013, Mosses participated in the Venice Biennale as an Ireland representative. He exhibited Enclave, explaining that the work aims to bring “two counter-worlds into collision: art’s potential to represent narratives so painful they exist beyond language, and photography’s capacity to document specific tragedies and communicate them to the world.”

Richard Mosse - The Enclave, six-channel video installation, Irish Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale
Richard Mosse – The Enclave, six-channel video installation, Irish Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale
Photo: Tom Powel Imaging inc.

Other exhibitions

Mosse has showcased his works at the Palazzi, Florence, the Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, the Bass Museum of Art, Miami, the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, the Center Cultural Irlandais, Pari, and many more. Enclave is part of collections such as the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Martin Margulies Collection.

Richard Mosse - The Enclave, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, May 2 - 25, 2015
Richard Mosse – The Enclave, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, May 2-25, 2015

Richard Mosse - Installation view, The Enclave, 2012–2013. 16 mm infrared film transferred to HD video. Produced in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Richard Mosse – Installation view, The Enclave, 2012–2013. 16 mm infrared film transferred to HD video. Produced in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

Richard Mosse - Installation view, The Enclave, 2012–2013. 16 mm infrared film transferred to HD video. Produced in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Richard Mosse – Installation view, The Enclave, 2012–2013. 16 mm infrared film transferred to HD video. Produced in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

Film stills

Richard Mosse - 2013 (16mm stills) Six screen film installation Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery
Richard Mosse – 2013 (16mm stills), Six screen film installation

Richard Mosse - 2013 (16mm stills) Six screen film installation Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery
Richard Mosse – 2013 (16mm stills), Six screen film installation

Richard Mosse - 2013 (16mm stills) Six screen film installation Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery
Richard Mosse – 2013 (16mm stills), Six screen film installation

Richard Mosse - 2013 (16mm stills) Six screen film installation Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery
Richard Mosse – 2013 (16mm stills), Six screen film installation

Richard Mosse - 2013 (16mm stills) Six screen film installation Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery
Richard Mosse – 2013 (16mm stills), Six screen film installation

Richard Mosse - 2013 (16mm stills) Six screen film installation Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery
Richard Mosse – 2013 (16mm stills), Six screen film installation

All images by Richard Mosse/richardmosse.com & Jack Shainman Gallery unless otherwise noted.

More

More by Richard Mosse

More war photography

Related works

Related readings
  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgian_Congo
  2. https://www.hrw.org/africa/democratic-republic-congo
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kivu_conflict
  4. https://fair.org/extra/congo-ignored-not-forgotten/
  5. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/10734272/Richard-Mosse-Congos-civil-war-Interview.html
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