The Kinshasa collective turning rubbish into costumes

Colin Delfosse photographed the group of artists exposing the extent of the city’s waste problem through wearable pieces of trash

Photo by Colin Delfosse showing a person wearing a costume made out of old tubes, with the appearance of having tentacles, stood in front of a peach coloured wall
All images from Fulu Act © Colin Delfosse

In the 1950s, Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was a relatively small town with a population of around 200,000. However, when the DRC achieved independence from Belgium, its colonial ruler, in 1960, Kinshasa began to grow, and in 2021 was reported to have a population of 17 million, making it one of the biggest cities on the continent.

This rapid expansion has seen Kinshasa transform from a modest town to a full-blown megalopolis, and has brought with it an influx of money and wealth into the area. However, this wealth is concentrated in only a select few neighbourhoods, and there is huge disparity between Kinshasa’s financial elite and those residing within the city’s widespread slums.

Photo by Colin Delfosse showing a person wearing a bubbly costume made from drinks cans, stood in front of a yellow metal clad container building
Photo by Colin Delfosse showing a person wearing a dark spiky costume made out of waste such as metallic pipes, stood on rough sandy ground in front of a white wall

Beyond this, the Congolese capital also faces an array of societal and environmental issues, including a lack of healthcare and public infrastructure, pollution, deforestation, and overconsumption. The latter, in particular, is evident in the city’s littered streets, and is the result of 7,000 tonnes of rubbish passing through them every single day. Without a properly functioning rubbish collection system, this waste is left to rot on the roadside, further exacerbating the other issues that Kinshasa is currently dealing with.

This mass of litter was the inspiration for a collective of artists living in the city called Fulu Act, who have designed a series of costumes using the discarded waste and products to be used in public performances. Gathering single-use plastic – such as water bottles, pipes, and medical packaging – as well as other items like old electronics, scrap metal, and even condoms, the artists build intricate, eye-catching, and wearable suits.

Photo by Colin Delfosse showing a person wearing a beige costume made out of waste, as though covered in layers of long hair, standing in a room with a red table and chairs, and walls painted in a beach scene

These are then used in performance pieces around Kinshasa in which the collective condemn the state of the city, and the government’s inability to implement basic infrastructure such as roads, sewage systems, and electricity. Through these performances, the artists hope to engage local inhabitants in a dialogue about these issues and encourage a more active role in challenging the status quo.

To help broaden this message, Belgian photographer Colin Delfosse visited Kinshasa and photographed the artists in their costumes, shining a light not just on the morbidly beautiful craftsmanship involved in making them, but on the wider ideas that they symbolise. Through his photographs, which are currently on show at the Belfast Photo Festival, viewers can appreciate both the gravity of the situation, and the capacity for creative responses to it.

Photo by Colin Delfosse showing a person wearing a costume made out of waste, standing in a yard in front of two low buildings
Photo by Colin Delfosse showing a person wearing a costume created from waste that has the appearance of metallic feathers, stood next to bare trees and a graffiti covered wall

Fulu Act by Colin Delfosse is on display at Queen’s University Quad, Belfast until June 30;;