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Between life and death in Kinshasa: Film screening + discussion

Film screening and discussion hosted by LSE Cities in partnership with LSE Anthropology

This event featured a screening of the film ‘Cemetery State’ followed by commentary by geographer and urban theorist Jennifer Robinson and discussion with Filip De Boeck, urban anthropologist and the film’s director.

In ‘Cemetery State’, De Boeck invites us on a bewildering tour of the cemetery of Kintambo, one of the oldest and largest cemeteries in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over the years, the city has increasingly invaded the cemetery, and shanty towns have sprung up alongside it. One of these is the populated slum area of Camp Luka (also known as ‘the State’). Here, the living and dead live in close proximity.

Although the cemetery was officially closed by the urban authorities two decades ago, the people from Camp Luka continue to bury their dead there. This astonishing film follows Papa Mayaula and his small group of grave-diggers. Through an intimate portrait of their daily dealings with the dead, the film also introduces us to the ‘children of the State’, the youth of Camp Luka. For them, mourning rituals and funerals have become moments of upheaval and contestation of official social and political orders. For this urban youth, burials have become occasions to criticise elders, politicians and preachers who are blamed for the pitiful state of affairs in the city and the country. ‘Cemetery State’ observes how these young gravediggers, singers and drummers use the body of the dead as an alternative platform to attack and challenge their elders, to create their own (dis)order, and to appropriate the urban site.

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  • Filip De Boeck

    Filip De Boeck is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Leuven, Belgium. His research in the Democratic republic of Congo focuses on youth and the city. With photographer Marie-Françoise Plissart he is the author of Kinshasa: Tales of the Invisible City (2004) and also co-edited Makers and Breakers. Children and Youth in Postcolonial Africa (2005). He is currently preparing a book on new city extensions across Africa.

  • Jennifer Robinson

    Jennifer Robinson is Professor of Human Geography at University College London. Her book, Ordinary Cities (Routledge, 2006) developed a post-colonial critique of urban studies. This project has been taken forward in her call to reinvent comparative urbanism for global urban studies (in IJURR, 2011). Current projects include exploring transnational aspects of Johannesburg and London's policy making processes.

  • Deborah James

    Deborah James is Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics. Her research interests, focused on South Africa, include migration, ethnomusicology, ethnicity, property relations and the politics of land reform. She is author of Songs of the Women Migrants: Performance and Identity in South Africa (Edinburgh University Press, 1999) and of Gaining Ground? “Rights” and “Property” in South African Land Reform (Routledge, 2007).