Alice Seeley Harris
Brutal Exposure: the Congo

24 January - 7 June 2015

International Slavery Museum

Liverpool, UK

Free exhibition

Coinciding with Congo Dialogues: Alice Seeley Harris and Sammy Baloji at Rivington Place, the International Slavery Museum presents Brutal Exposure: the Congo

In the early 1900s, the missionary Alice Seeley-Harris produced what was probably the first photographic campaign in support of human rights. She exposed the atrocities that underpinned King Leopold II’s regime in the Congo Free State, bringing to public attention the plight of the Congolese people under a violent and oppressive regime.

These photographs fundamentally shifted public awareness of the deep-rooted hypocrisy of King Leopold II’s promise of colonial benevolence, and caused an outcry at the time of their publication in Europe and America.

Harris’ photographs circulated widely, in the press and reproduced as lantern slides illustrating lectures by the Congo Reform Association. This exposure resulted in international political pressure on King Leopold II, eventually forcing him to relinquish absolute rule over the Congo Free State in 1908.

Brutal Exposure and Congo Dialogues marks the 175th anniversary of Anti-Slavery International and the invention of photography. Alice Seeley Harris was a founding member of Anti-Slavery International in 1839.

Acclaim for Alice Seeley Harris

Alice Harris' shocking photos revealed to the world the horrendous truth of slavery in the Congo and helped bring public pressure and international scrutiny to the situation faced by its people

Paul Donohoe, Anti-Slavery International

The kodak has been a sole calamity to us. The most powerful enemy indeed. In the early years we had no trouble in getting the press to “expose” the tales of mutilations as slanders, lies, inventions of busy-body American missionaries and exasperated foreigners…. Yes, all things went harmoniously and pleasantly in those good days…. Then all of a sudden came the crash! That is to say, the incorruptible kodak – and all harmony went to hell! The only witness I couldn’t bribe.

Mark Twain, King Leopold’s Soliloquy, 1905. Twain was directly influenced by Harris' photographs

Instead of the charade of civilization that masked the Belgian's presence in the Congo, [Alice Seeley Harris'] photographs exposed the deep-rooted hypocrisy of so called colonial benevolence.

Mark Sealy, Director of Autograph ABP

I'm thrilled that Lady Alice Seeley Harris is finally being recognized for the integral role she played in providing the documentary evidence that enabled Congo Reform to move ahead.

Judy Pollard Smith, author of the forthcoming book Don't Call Me Lady; The Journey of Alice Seeley Harris

Harris's pictures of tortured Congolese slave labourers had sparked the first international movement for human rights.

Stephanie Nolen, The Globe and Mail

What the press says

Exposed the horrors of colonialism in the Congo


Brutal Exposure certainly succeeds in generating the same visceral reaction to Harris’s images generated a century earlier, and testifies to the enduring power of photography.

The Double Negative

In partnership with

Anti-Slavery International

Anti-Slavery International works at local, national and international levels to eliminate all forms of slavery around the world.

The Harris Lantern Slide Collection is owned by Anti-Slavery International, and currently managed by Autograph ABP. We have been working together since 2009 to share this important archive with a wider audience.

International Slavery Museum, Liverpool

The International Slavery Museum explores historical and contemporary aspects of slavery.


Exhibition talk:
‘When Harmony Went to Hell’

Tuesday 4 February 2014, 6pm

International Slavery Museum, Liverpool

Read more »

Share your thoughts

Part of Autograph ABP's ongoing Congo research

Autograph ABP has been researching issues of human rights, photography and the DR Congo since 2009. Outcomes of this work include:

Sammy Baloji Commission
2010, DR Congo
Autograph ABP commissioned Baloji to document the site wehere Patrice Lumumba and Joseph Okito were executed and first buried

The Republic of the Congo newspaper
Published 2010
Featuring an essay by Sharon Slowinski, and texts by Mark Sealy and Paul Donohoe
Available as a free PDF download

Sammy Baloji: Mémoire
2 June - 4 July 2010
Exhibition at Dilston Grove, Lodon

Congo Reform Photography Archive Digitisation
2013 - ongoing
Autograph ABP is currently digitising the Harris Lantern Slide Collection

When Harmony Went to Hell
Congo Dialogues: Alice Seeley Harris and Sammy Baloji

Forthcoming exhibition
16 January - March 2014
Rivington Place, London

Brutal Exposure: Conflict in the Congo
Forthcoming exhibtion,
24 January - September 2014
International Slavery Museum, Liverpool

Partnering exhibition in London

Brutal Exposure coincides with the exhibition:

Congo Dialogues: Alice Seeley Harris and Sammy Baloji
16 January - 22 March 2014
Rivington Place, London
Read more >

Press contact

For more information and images, please contact Lois Olmstead at Autograph ABP

Phone +44 (0)20 7720 92200
Email lois [at] autograph-abp.co.uk

Additional Info

International Slavery Museum
Dock Traffic Office

Albert Dock, Liverpool Waterfront

L3 4AX 

0151 478 4499
Open daily 10am - 5pm

The International Slavery Museum is fully accessible. For more details, please visit DisabledGo

Free admission

Read more about the exhibition on the International Slavery Museum website

  • Exhibition poster for Brutal Exposure: The Congo
  • Alice Seeley Harris, Manacled members of a chain gang at Bauliri. A common punishment for not paying taxes, Congo Free State, c. 1904. Courtesy Anti-Slavery International / Autograph ABP
  • Alice Seeley Harris, Three head sentries of the ABIR with a prisoner, Congo Free State, c.1904. Courtesy Anti-Slavery International / Autograph ABP
  • The Harris Lantern Slide Collection arrives at Autograph ABP from Anti-Slavery International