Life After Genocide? - Lane Gallery, Puke Ariki
6 September 2004
Life After Genocide?
How do you begin to document the aftermath of genocide? Where would you start to map the boundaries of human grief and courage, and the recovery from it? Photographer Sarah Stewart has done just that in her exhibition, Everything Collapses into Courage – Life after the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
Opened on Saturday August 9, in the Lane Gallery at Puke Ariki, New Plymouth, Sarah’s exhibition uses photographs and soundscapes to explore the remarkable recovery of communities within Rwanda. “In the course of 100 days…800,000 people were put to death in the most unambiguous case of state sponsored genocide in an attempt to exterminate a category of humanity, a people, since the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews in Europe,” says Sarah.
Rwanda is a small land-locked nation in East Africa, surrounded by Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire). The population is made up primarily of two ethnic groups Hutu (85%), the oppressed majority, and Tutsi (approximately 15%), the privileged class. In 1959 the Hutus overthrew the ruling Tutsi king, and following Rwanda’s independence from Belgium in 1962, mass killings of Tutsis took place. Driven into exile, Tutsi children formed the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). In 1990 civil war began between the RPF and Hutu lead government. Late in 1993 a UN peace-keeping force arrived in Rwanda but was unable to stop the genocide in April 1994 of an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. In July 1994 Tutsi rebels defeated the Hutu regime and put an end to the killings. New Zealand was one of only three United Nations Security Council members that voted to intervene in Rwanda. After the defeat of the regime two million Hutu refugees fled to neighbouring countries fearing retribution. Most have now returned, and in March 1999 Rwanda held its first local elections.
Sarah believes photographic images enable an audience to identify with and respond to challenging material in a personal and empowering way. “I hope this project will make a contribution to New Zealander’s capacity to consider the incomprehensible reality of mass violence, by underlining the fundamental similarity of people everywhere and to join an international audience that is showing signs of willingness to address one of the most violent centuries in history”.
Everything Collapses into Courage – Life after the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, by Sarah Stewart. August 9th – October 3rd, Lane Gallery, Puke Ariki.