DRC: Photo Exhibition in Paris Highlights Plight of Civilians in North Kivu

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In Paris, a poignant photo exhibition sheds light on the dire situation of civilians in North Kivu province, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Organized by the NGO Première Urgence Internationale, the exhibition showcases the work of British photographer Hugh Kinsella Cunningham, who was awarded the Visa d’Or for Humanitarian Photography by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in mid-June. For the past two years, Cunningham has documented the flight and difficult living conditions of civilians in displacement camps.

Hugh Kinsella Cunningham aims to raise awareness about the dramatic plight of civilians facing the advance of M23 rebels in North Kivu. He travels with his camera to the front lines of the conflict, capturing powerful images such as those from the town of Sake in March.

“Some of these images show very intense moments where civilians are fleeing artillery fire at 4 a.m. after an attack,” Cunningham explains. “They grab their children and whatever they can in a minute or two and flee to find safety and start a new life in these terrible displacement camps.”

With nearly 7 million internally displaced persons in the DRC according to the United Nations, Cunningham’s photography aims to humanize these figures. “When numbers reach such levels, it’s hard to visualize what that actually looks like. Photography allows us to meet people and understand that these are families, not just abstract victims in a distant country. It conveys individual stories, helping us comprehend the larger picture,” he says.

Cunningham also employs aerial photography, using a drone to capture the vast scale of displacement in eastern DRC. Some photos show white tents stretching as far as the eye can see in camps on the outskirts of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. “These images help the public understand what it means to be uprooted, to be forced from your home.

The idea of families with five, six, or seven children living in these tiny tents is absolutely shocking.” He also reminds us that these camps are not safe from bombings, noting that on May 3, the Mungunga camp near Goma was struck, resulting in around fifteen deaths.

Amidst the conflict, Cunningham ensures his photography never dehumanizes the people he encounters. He captures the solidarity among humanitarian workers and joyful moments, such as a wedding celebration in a South Kivu village. His respectful and insightful work has earned him the Visa d’Or for Humanitarian Photography from the ICRC.

Christophe Martin, head of the ICRC delegation in France and a jury member, praised Cunningham’s deep understanding of the context and acceptance by the local community. “He has been on the ground for over five years and is a profound knower of this reality. His photos reveal this truth vividly, like the one of a one-legged man moving with crutches, encapsulating the relentless burden of displacement. It truly illustrates the horror experienced by populations in eastern Congo.”

Martin concludes, “Photography has an immediate, impactful effect, reaching a wide audience. Through this exhibition, we aim to bring attention to this forgotten conflict and the largely overlooked populations affected by it.”

The exhibition “North Kivu: In the Grip of Conflict” by Hugh Kinsella Cunningham runs until July 11 at the Angalia Gallery in Paris.


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