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French photographer Bénédicte Kurzen explores the mystical and ancestral practice of Congolese wrestling in Brazzaville.

Makasi Tskiwa, 46, well known as Big Papa T, started wrestling 10 years ago, now he lives in England and visits Kinshasa for the first time after a few years, at the Martyrs Stadium, Kinshasa, DRC, the 1st of August 2006. © Bénédicte Kurzen / NOOR Images


Lisbon-based photographer Bénédicte Kurzen, a member of NOOR Images, began her career when she moved to Israel in 2003, covering hard news as a freelancer in the Gaza Strip, Iraq and Lebanon.
 

Wrestlers train under the guidance of Champion Texas, First Champion on non-fetish wrestling in Kinshasa, in a school, close to Badiading camp, Kinshasa, DRC, the 8th of August 2008. © Bénédicte Kurzen / NOOR Images


In 2004, her photography developed from hard news to a more documentary style with her work on the lives of volunteer suicide bombers and widows in the Gaza Strip. Bénédicte Kurzen contributed with this work to the “Violence Against Women” group project, in collaboration with Amnesty International and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
 

Kadima Kayombo, called Mabokotomo, 22, demonstrates one of his wrestling techniques at Martyrs Stadium, Kinshasa, DRC, the 1st of November 2006. © Bénédicte Kurzen / NOOR Images


She also wrote an essay about the “myth of the war photographer”, which inspired her to become a visual storyteller herself. For the past ten years, Bénédicte Kurzen has been covering conflicts and socio-economical changes in Africa.
 

Locango Ndoki (the sorcerer) worships his witchcraft statue before a match of a five days wrestling tournament opposing Wrestlers from RDC and the Republic of Congo at the Mbonge stadium, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, the 4th of November 2006. © Bénédicte Kurzen / NOOR Images


In South Africa, where she was based, she explored some of the deepest social challenges of the post-apartheid society producing stories entitled “Next of Kin”, “The Boers Last Stand” and “Amaqabane”, on the life of former anti-apartheid combatants. 
 

Siboli from Kinshasa (left) appears paralyzed by a powder used by Amigo from Brazzaville (right) during a match of a five days wrestling tournament opposing Wrestlers from RDC and the Republic of Congo at the Mbonge Stadium, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, Saturday, the 4th of November 2006. © Bénédicte Kurzen / NOOR Images
The magic assistant of Red Tiger stands watching the defeat of his master after a match of a five days wrestling tournament at the Mbonge stadium, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, Saturday, Nov.4, 2006. © Bénédicte Kurzen / NOOR Images


In 2010, Bénédicte Kurzen decided to do a story on voodoo wrestling in Congo and started photographing these fights mostly at night. It is the moment when the hypnotic beat of drums and the loud melodic trumpets announced the beginning of the wrestling match.

The athletes were getting ready and that night, in Brazzaville, they would fight opponents from Kinshasa. The audience was mesmerized by the “voodoo” that has been borrowed from ancestral practices that were used in animist rituals — a large part of the intrigue of this sport.
 

Edingwe falls under the magic tricks of his opponent, Locango Ndoki (the sorcerer),  during a match of a five days wrestling tournament at the Mbonge stadium, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, Saturday, the 4th of November 2006. © Bénédicte Kurzen / NOOR Images


In Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, wrestling is as popular as it is in the U.S. The main difference: The Congolese like to introduce a mystical, magical “voodoo” element to the pantomime. So in addition to huge men wearing spandex and diving off 10-foot-tall stages, there are also “magical traditions” involving powders, spells and zombie-like transformations of wrestlers.

The majority of the athletes are former soldiers or street kids, who see in wrestling an opportunity to earn a better living or escape the misery they grew up in. It is the faces, the bodies and the passion of these men that Bénédicte Kurzen photographed in this beautiful and exclusive photo essay.
 

Endingwe from Kinshasa, star of Congolese wrestling, is under the power of his opponent. He is being put in a coffin during the final match of a five days wrestling tournament opposing wrestlers from RDC and the Republic of Congo at the Mbonge stadium, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, Monday, the 6th of November 2006. © Bénédicte Kurzen / NOOR Images


 
 


Bénédicte Kurzen is represented by NOOR Images
www.noorimages.com/benedicte-kurzen
 

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