Events | Beauty for Congo workshop

29 March 2013 | ResolutionPossible

Last week we ran a workshop for a new art initiative, Beauty for Congo. We met organisers Pauline Etim-Ubah and Ange Mukeza soon after they first dreamed up their idea of using art to find a way to raise awareness of the violence women are subjected to in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in hopes of helping to improve the situation. They hadn’t decided on the exact focus of the project, but were motivated by a strong need to ‘do something’ for Congolese women with the talents they have.

‘I found out what was going on in the DRC about three years ago and I was just horrified that there is this conflict and huge violence against women on a regular and systematic basis and the world hadn’t stopped it, and I just thought – what could I do?’

— Pauline Etim-Ubah, founder of Beauty for Congo

Beauty for Congo workshop

Pauline and Ange asked us to run a workshop at their first meet-up with other artists to help them find a theme that would turn their emotive reactions into something positive and constructive. We put together a series of video clips demonstrating the different ways the DRC is presented by the media, human rights campaigns, and Congolese people themselves. We asked them to think about how each one made them feel, and what message came across about the DRC. Huge blank sheets of paper were spread across the table for people to scribble and doodle their reactions.

As we took them on a journey through campaigns and appeals designed to stir emotions, fact-based talks about materials sourced from conflict zones, and testimonies revealing the lesser talked about side of sexual violence – assaults on men – the shift in the group’s responses was palpable. The group experienced degrees of discomfort, helplessness, confusion, frustration, interest and surprise in learning something new, as they watched each piece of media. We asked them to express their emotional responses and then discussed the intent of each piece of media and why it was designed in that way. Ideas and conversations flowed, the energy level changed, powerlessness became empowerment as they recognised the role they – as individuals and as a collective – could play through this project.

‘In the NGO world you immediately jump to sponsoring somebody or sending money, but actually it’s really important that people know that we’re here for them and that they’re not forgotten. Moral support is really important – how do you quantify that – can I package that and send it over?’

‘We can use art to pressure mobile phone companies to use fair trade materials.’

In light of the workshop, the group discussed the future of Beauty for Congo and how it could best contribute something positive. The unanimous decision was that rather than focus on violence against women, like many other campaigns do, it would be more useful to look at root causes of this violence. The group therefore decided to explore the theme of ‘connections’ – how we as individuals are connected to the Congo. They hope this will speak to artists and viewers on a personal level and spark innovative thinking about how we can all take steps to change the status quo.

Pauline and Ange are inviting anyone who wishes to take part in the Beauty for Congo art project to get in touch via their Facebook page and to post about your progress on Twitter (and instagram) using the hashtag #beautyforcongo.

If you would like to speak to us about running a workshop please contact us on

‘I feel like I grew a lot in the space of an hour and a half… I went from being a proper novice about campaigns and messages to at the end feeling more secure and measured about information and feeling like I can look at things and be objective, not just be horrified and overwhelmed and do what the campaigns are trying to make me do, but actually think for myself. So a greater sense of agency. That was really cool.’

— Pauline Etim-Ubah, event organiser

‘It made me realise how much I don’t know, how much I still have to learn… Resolution:Possible helps direct me to different sources where I can find out information. I try to be a positive person, so knowing that there’s so much more I have to learn makes me feel like I’m growing… I think from the time you think you are ‘there’ you just stop living… it’s like a challenge for me to continue learning.’

— Ange Mukeza, event organiser

 ‘It’s important to change the connotations people have of Congo and see the more positive side. The workshop highlighted how Congo and other situations are expressed and portrayed in the mainstream, it’s important for people to be aware of that and not fall into the trap of hearing the single narrative that is often repeated about Congo and Africa in general. It’s really important to address that and challenge people’s perceptions. What really hit home for me was hearing the man’s testimony about how he’d been raped by soldiers [in Uganda]… I learned quite a lot because you rarely hear about how men are victims of sexual violence.’

— JJ Bola, Congolese born, raised in London, artist and poet

‘I am Congo. Congo means everything, my life. I really liked this event, if we can do more of them it would be very nice for the future of our country. There’s always negativity about Congo but I would like the world to know that it’s very beautiful. We need to talk about the positive sides of Congo, work positively for Congo so one day people can come and visit peacefully. We Congolese people need to stand up for our country. Maybe this is personal talk, but I don’t want Congolese people to think about other people helping us. If they see we are not working for ourselves, people might come, but it won’t be for long.’

Smokey 9278, Congolese hip hop artist and promoter living in the UK since 2002

‘I think the workshop was really challenging. I thought it presented a diverse range of points of view that we were able to reflect on and discuss. It was presented in a really intimate way so you felt you could talk about subject areas that are really quite taboo and very difficult, and it was a very welcome and positive atmosphere.’

— Workshop participant


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