On Rwanda

Hi.

 

This will be a place for images, stories, thoughts and presumably incoherent diatribes. I’m not sure what form this blog will take, nor how often I’ll post here or what these posts will entail. But, alas: here I am, in Kigali, Rwanda for the next six months and this is a pretty viable outlet for discussing my time here.


I’ve always felt overwhelmingly compelled towards African cultures and history. As per my attitude towards all of the world, I find Africa’s complexities and nuances deeply fascinating. It’s a massive continent of numerous disparate countries- which, while apparently common sense, is important to note when the African continent is so frequently referred to or conceived as more a ‘country’ with a singular history, identity and cultural narrative. 

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As for why I’m in Rwanda, I feel most ‘in my element’ when traveling and photographing, infinitely more correct in my actions than in doing anything else. My time spent in Kenya several years ago cemented that eastern Africa was a region I wanted to revisit, explore and understand to the extent possible. When presented with the opportunity to travel to and study within Rwanda, I once again experienced that sense of correctness: this was, is, what I want to do. 


Below is a description of the research I’ll be conducting with the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide here in Kigali, as well as as the research I’ll be working on remotely with Professor Natalie Bormann at Northeastern. If you’ve got any further questions, you’re welcome to contact me via the contact form in my site, or by Facebook!


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    Genocide is frequently represented with atrocity footage, delineating the rampant violence and death entailed in genocide. Some images appear epically shocking, resulting in a response of voyeuristic numbness rather than an understanding of present human suffering. Most footage tends to focus primarily on trauma as manifested through objects or landscapes. For example, the Holocaust is often depicted through Auschwitz, and here we see ‘simply’ images of barbed wire or edifices rather than human subjects. Apparently ‘human’ objects, such as hair or shoes used to illustrate the scale of the killings, become decontextualized items remarkable on the basis of their abundance rather than their human origins. Representations of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda are similar. Atrocity footage of lush green landscapes, meant to suggest mass graves, appears divorced from the reality of the slaughter that took place there; mass graves of mummified corpses, trapped in horrified poses, function as observable items, resulting in an interface between viewer and corpse more evocative of a museum dynamic than of an interaction with a genocidal scenario.

I will be conducting research with The National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide (CNLG) in Kigali, Rwanda from July through January, while collaborating remotely on this research project with Professor Bormann. I will be conducting interviews with survivors as well as perpetrators and political officials, in addition to observing memorial sites throughout the country to understand Rwanda’s process of commemoration and memorialization as it relates to the aforementioned inadequacy or misdirection of traditional atrocity depiction. A central question of our research is whether genocide is represented differently depending upon people place and time.

In juxtaposing my work with the CNLG, which is part of the Rwandan government, and independent research with Professor Bormann, I can understand how the government illustrates the genocide relative to how people illustrate it. Additionally, I seek to understand how representations of genocide change over time and to what effect by examining historic media and traditional coverage of the Rwandan, and other historically recent, genocides. 

Finally, our research seeks to answer the question of alternatives to atrocity footage, whether that be via oral history, local art or other means. As a form of documentation, I will be utilizing my interest and skillset within photography to provide a comparatively ‘humanized’ approach to atrocity coverage. That is, I will be speaking with individuals, documenting their responses in writing and in photographs to provide a narrative and aesthetic context for their experience, thus resulting in an ‘alternative’. I plan to photograph portraits as well as images of subjective place to communicate the various ways in which space is physically altered by its history of trauma. The overarching intent of the research is to better understand and explain the politics of traditional atrocity footage and to examine post­trauma identity.

As aforementioned, this research seeks to understand the underlying dynamics of genocide coverage and the politics of identity in its wake, while providing an alternative to traditional atrocity footage. This alternative can provide a more provocative and empathetic vision of genocide, and thus compel not only more constructive reflections upon genocide in the international and academic communities, but also instigate more effective measures of present genocide prevention and coverage.