The Congo in pink

The connotations of the colour pink are enveloped in a flippant frivolity that oozes love, sex and romance. Pink has acquired a pop-culture playfulness that invokes a whimsical tone of superficial sensationalism and passionate pleasure. Pink is trifling. Or is it? Photographer Richard Mosse has defied the cliché of pink in a series of war photographs taken in the Congo and thus proved the ability of Art to render redundant the parties, princesses and porn of perfectly pretty pink.

The Congo is plagued by war. Over the past 15 years, more than 40 different armed groups have fought across a country the size of western Europe. Statistics (the mere mention of which calls us to read between the lines) reveal 400,000 rapes in one year; 5.4 million deaths between 1998 and 2007. Of the number of people who have died, only around 300,000 were killed; the rest – disproportionately children – perished due to disease and hunger caused by the fighting.

This sequence of pictures depicts the integration of rebels from the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) into the Congolese national army in 2010. The pictures here show the uneasy truce that has brought an end to some of the fighting.

The photographs taken by Mosse – who used a recently discontinued Aerochrome infrared film developed by the US military in the 1940s to detect camouflage and to reveal part of the spectrum of light the human eye cannot see – abandon the graphic realism of the colour palette that traditionally characterises war photography. The infrared film has translated the vegetation of the eastern Congo into shocking pink and the soldiers’ uniforms purple.

I looked at the pictures because they are pink; not because the war disturbed me or because I felt compassion for the millions who have starved to death or the hundreds of thousands who have had their bodies violated by aggression. But because the photos are pink. And I like pink. The translation of this very disturbing fact is that I have become so desensitised to the world’s atrocities that I cannot relate to tragedy unless there is a ‘gimmick’ involved – this in itself is a great tragedy. I’d like to say that my shameful lack of empathy is in aid of self-preservation but I suspect that said argument smacks of excuse.

Seemingly aware of society’s collective ‘self-preservation’ based ignorance Mosse’s images adopt a surreal tone that initially makes the pictures attractive, thus easier to look at, but lurking beneath the façade of fantasy is a disturbing truth. An introspective truth that tells of negligence and apathy. A truth that highlights disdain and indifferenc. Mosse’s photographs, by forcing recognition through the rendition of the absurd, comment on the sickening state of society’s collective consciousness. The pictures demand awareness and in so doing challenge the viewer with the responsibility of enlightenment.

We have a responsibility to know and a consequent responsibility to act.

Source: Pink