Dutch artist Renzo Martens spent three years traveling throughout the Democratic Republic of the Congo asking the question: “Who owns poverty?”
In an epic journey, the film establishes that images of poverty are the Congo’s most lucrative export, generating more revenue than traditional exports like gold, diamonds, or cocoa. However, just as with these traditional exports, those that provide the raw material: the poor being filmed, hardly benefit from it at all.
Amidst ethnic war and relentless economic exploitation, Martens sets up an emancipation program that aims to teach the poor how to benefit from their biggest resource: poverty. Thus, Congolese photographers are encouraged to move on from development-hindering activities, such as photographing weddings and parties, and to start taking images of war and disaster. With a neon sign, packed in metal crates and carried through the jungle by Martens’ porters, the local population is encouraged to capitalize on what the world has given them as their share. It states ‘Enjoy Poverty.’ Hapless plantation workers question it, accept it, dance around it, yet in the end, the whole project seems bound to fail.