Pamela Kleemann-Passi
Photographer & Visual Artist

PJ Kool – Dissecting Culture, Cancer and Cloth


Archival Pigment Prints on Canson Cotton Rag

P J Kool – Dissecting Culture, Cancer and Cloth is a series of playful photographs of the late Congolese musician, Passi Jo, made while he was a cancer in-patient at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, his adopted home. They reference ‘La Sape’, a sub-cultural anti-establishment, non-violent movement that he was a part of in his African homeland of Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, and in Paris. La Sape translates to Society for the Advancement of People of Elegance (from the French “La Societé des Ambienceurs et des Personnes Èlégantes”). It is about harmony in mind, body and soul. “The Sape is the art of creating beautiful harmonies from the combination of colours and styles to highlight the elegance of a suit and the manner of the sapeur”.

Passi Jo rose from his hospital bed and dressed for the camera, suited up in brightly coloured, well- pressed pyjamas ‘la sape-style’, to reconnect with and celebrate his culture, and be transported from a life defined by cancer to one of feeling the joy, style and swagger of living again. Participating in these photographs enabled him to share his culture with the hospital staff and other patients. Like the Sapeurs, he created atmosphere, ambience and colour in an otherwise confronting and emotionally fraught medical environment.

The exhibition aligns illness and creative practice, highlighting the crucial role the arts can and should play in health and wellbeing.


2017 – St Vincent’s Hospital Public Art Gallery, Melbourne Australia

2018 – As part of the Head On Photo Festival group exhibition, Witnessing Cultural Identities, curated by Sandy Edwards from Arthere, Articulate Project Space, Sydney Australia.

2019 – Xavier Art Space, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney Australia.

Download the PJ Kool catalogue

View media coverage of PJ Kool in the Moreland Leader

View article in Realtime

See video on St Vincent’s Hospital Facebook Page

View article in ArtHere

Flyer from HeadOn Festival

All works copyright © The Artist 2016

Visitor Comments

“Every image is a declaration! This is life affirming. A depiction of dying with dignity. Every picture makes me smile.” (Kathy Bowlen, SVHM Media & Communications, Melbourne)

“What a wonderful tribute to a special man. I am not sure if I feel more happiness or sadness looking at these… So interesting to learn about ‘La Sape’ and to appreciate, in retrospect, Jo’s wonderful La Sape style!” (Dr Genni Newnham, SVHM Cancer Centre, Melbourne)

“Pam these photos are beautiful and capture Jo’s elegance and ‘magic’. How wonderful that you have such a skill with a camera so that we can remember him with so much colour, vibrance and joy!” (Meg, SVHM Cancer Centre team Melbourne)

“Thank you for this very beautiful, clever and moving exhibit. It was a privilege to learn about the life of Jo and as a junior doctor working in Oncology, I feel inspired by these stories and your passion to unite health and the humanities.” (Megan Dunstan, junior doctor in Oncology, Melbourne)

“So nice to see the human side of medical care through art. Such a charming man!” (Jim Chambliss, Art Therapist, Melbourne)

“Thank you for sharing this wonderful and moving exhibition. Very inspiring. Full of hope and positivity despite the sadness and the struggle. Life itself, in a beautiful tribute.” (Matt, Melbourne)

“A perfect marriage in life and work between two creative people – the musician and the photographer. Your exhibition gives us a heartfelt insight into your love and humour, in sickness and in health. Thanks for sharing…” (Lee Hunt, musician, Melbourne)

“The newspapers and media – particularly the Melbourne Age – are currently focused on aged and end-of-life care. Much of the discussion is around the capacity for maintenance of dignity at the end of a continuum of life stories and experiences. The celebration of cultural identification, theatre and exuberance is another, heightened level not written of as much, but evident here. The memory cabinet evidences a life behind the beautiful images – it allows me, a stranger, to look into a small taste of what this man was. I can also see, almost feel, the love-pain continuum with which we all need to come to terms.” (Helmet Lauckenhausen, Pro Vice Chancellor, Torrens University Australia, Melbourne)

“Great exhibition Pam! You’ve been able to capture his style and smile so amazingly throughout this difficult period for the both of you. I always think it’s great when something positive can come out of something so gloomy and you and Jo did that. Was always a pleasure caring for him and today learning a little more about his heritage and life’s work achievements.” (Daniel Berry, SVHM Cancer Centre team, Melbourne)

“You have made a beautiful tribute. I was moved greatly to see joy and beauty expressed in the usually sad and sombre hospital setting.” (Karen Trist, photographer Melbourne)

“Full of colour, positivity and the photographs really portray how important Jo’s culture and colour means and meant to him and his life. An exhibition full of love and respect.” (Jodie Minter, Melbourne)

“Death doesn’t have to be gloomy.” (Joseph Musemburi, Melbourne)

“Absolutely wonderful. Thank you for bringing these soul-moving, beautiful images to St Vincents.” (Roz Sharpe, Radiographer, St Vincent’s Private Hospital, Sydney)

“So poignant, so wonderful! A tremendous record of a life well lived.” (Anon)

“A singer is the most important person in society.” (Djon Mundine, Sydney)

“A wonderful exhibition of a bright character. Thank you Pam for showcasing love and light through the work.” (Katarina Cvitkovic, St Vincent’s Hospital Art Committee, Sydney)

“Thank you for sharing this incredible body of work with the world… The images demonstrate the creative and passionate personality of Passi Jo.” (Daniel Coelho, Photo Imaging, Torrens University Ultimo Campus, Sydney)

“When cancer took grip of celebrated Australian-Congolese musician Passi Jo, he turned to the colour and elegance of Congo’s sapeurs to lift spirits in hospital. A vibrant photo exhibition of these moments by his wife and Torrens University lecturer and photographer Pam Kleemann-Passi at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital is a must see! Here’s an exhibition you can’t miss – especially if you love the colour and elegance of Congo music and culture! (Bryce Ives, Vice President Communications & Public Affairs at Laureate International Universities/Torrens University Australia)