Day 13: Renzo Martens


One of the most controversial artists of the KunstenFestivalDesArts so far is not a theatre director, nor a choreographer. It’s a film director. I saw Renzo Martens’ Enjoy poverty a few days ago and I still don’t know what to make of it.

To begin with: it’s strange to hear people talk about Episode III – ‘Enjoy poverty’  as if it were a documentary. Because it is not. It’s part documentary, part art-project and part ego trip. Yes, it’s the story of Renzo Martens ‘ journey to Congo, during which the Dutch artist investigates the emotional and economic value of Africa’s most lucrative export: poverty. But at the same time it’s an artistic exercise in ‘how to look at things’. In that aspect, Martens likes to compare his film to the work of the American artist Robert Ryman: the painting is the subject of the painting.

‘What everyone is wondering about’, Martens says, ‘including myself, is: where does the irony end?’ And that for me, is maybe the most confusing part about Enjoy poverty. It’s not so much the shocking images. Many of the things Martens is trying to tell us about Congo, we already know (at least: I hope so): selling images of poverty is a business, humanitarian aid is not everywhere it should be, and, it’s a strange thing that people don’t make a stand against their oppression. 

(It made me think of a conversation I once had with the renowned classical singer Barbara Hendricks. She has travelled the world, as ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. ‘One of the strangest things, is to see how people in the most difficult of circumstances, adapt to that situation, instead of trying to change it.’)

‘Enjoy poverty is an objective portrayal of the balance of power in Congo’, Martens says. I’m not so sure of that. There’s too much of Renzo Martens in this movie. And some of the tricks he pulls I find rather appalling. (And some of the arguments he has for doing what he is doing, are quite shallow. Sometimes he suddenly pretends not to know how things work, in a movie.)

In the end Enjoy poverty did not make me question things about Congo. It made me think about the ways to portray a situation. When does a filmmaker cross a line? And what are those lines? (‘Some lines are invisible. Only by crossing them you realize that you’ve taken the wrong path’, as Italian designer Alberto Alessi once said, wisely.) But don’t get me wrong: Enjoy poverty is absolutely dealing with some important, utterly relevant (and quite shocking) issues.

For those of you who couldn’t make it to the KunstenFestivalDesArts: Enjoy poverty is now running in cinema’s in Brussels (Arenberg), Gent (Sfinks) and Antwerpen (Muhka Cinema).

(photo credit: Renzo Martens)


3 Responses to “Day 13: Renzo Martens”

  1. Alina Says:

    I’m also still puzzled after having seen ENJOY POVERTY. Nevertheless, I’m convinced the message itself remains true and clear. This is an important document. And I don’t think a lot of people know ‘selling images of poverty is a business, humanitarian aid is not everywhere it should be, and, it’s a strange thing that people don’t make a stand against their oppression’.

  2. […] third time she got nominated. Other notable winners this year are Benjamin Verdonck (theatre) and Renzo Martens (film), for his thought-provoking Enjoy poverty. They each get 12.500 euro. Berlinde De Bruyckere […]

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