Amid Conflict, Life and Art in Goma
Last July, Natalie Keyssar traveled to Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo set on telling a story about the region that was different from the many narratives about its refugee population or the scars from recent wars. Instead, she spent the month among the area’s youth, letting them dictate the subject matter.
“If you want to get to know a region, you look at the young people there,” said Ms. Keyssar, 31, who lives in Brooklyn. “Get to know the teenagers and early twenty-somethings, and their culture. They represent all of the factors that have gone into making their culture whatever it is.”
In the ” The Future Is Us” – done with a fellowship from the International Women’s Media Foundation – Ms. Keyssar documents Goma’s young generation as they make sense of their lives and try to find their way forward from childhood trauma fueled by constant death, foreign occupation and political instability. The photographs capture youths who use sports and grass-roots activism as outlets, but pay particular attention to the arts – one of the few avenues Ms. Keyssar said youths have for self-expression.
“It’s pretty accepted in the human condition that pain creates great art and inspires social change,” she said.
In the lyrics of rappers, the movement of dancers, and the looks on the faces of their young audiences and onlookers, the subjects in Ms. Keyssar’s photographs convey a range of feelings and emotions – from downtrodden and lost, to triumphant and inspired. Her photographs capture some pouring themselves into a microphone at a studio in Goma. Others partake in a frenzied band jam, or practice contorting their thin limbs into dance moves.
“These kids have been through so much, and their spirit of wanting to better themselves was really profound,” Ms. Keyssar said.
During her time in Goma, Ms. Keyssar also visited rural areas where the pain her young subjects spoke of continues to be a daily problem. As she traveled to neighboring cities and towns, she passed weapons strewn along the side of the road. She visited an orphanage where she spoke to displaced child soldiers, now teenagers, trying to re-enter society after experiencing well more than a lifetime’s worth of violence. One former soldier, Matata Bizi Hategeka, is pictured with his face shrouded by shadows. “We used to walk in blood every day,” he said.
A favorite image of Ms. Keyssar’s is of a 15-year-old girl bathing in a river (Slide 17). She stares intensely into the lens, and although Ms. Keyssar did not speak her language, she felt there was a connection between the two of them.
Ms. Keyssar said that after she took the photo, she spoke to the girl through an interpreter.
“I asked her about her future, about what she wanted to do.” But the girl could not respond. “Unfortunately,” Ms. Keyssar said, “there’s a lot of unanswered questions as to what this region can offer her.”