Full Frame: Voodoo wrestling in Congo

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The World

Full Frame features photo essays and conversations with photographers in the field.

The hypnotic beat of drums and the loud melodic trumpets announce the beginning of the wrestling match. The athletes are getting ready and tonight, in Brazzaville, they will fight opponents from Kinshasa. The audience is 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.

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.

About the photographer:

Benedicte Kurzen, 29, is based in Johannesburg and in 2008 was selected to join the VII Photo Mentor Program. She holds a master's degree in contemporary history from the Sorbonne. In 2003, she moved to Israel and took up photography, covering hard news in the Gaza Strip, later working in Iraq and Lebanon.

Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Time and Paris Match, among others. Encouraged by a photographer to contribute to a "Violence Against Women" project, Benedicte changed from news to documentary photography. In 2005, with five others, she founded EVE Photographers and moved to South Africa, traveling from there across the continent.

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