Many truths, many expressions

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“Over the last two decades Rwanda has changed enormously … but there’s still a tendency to try to represent it, particularly visually, in relation to genocide”, says Dr Zoe Norridge, curator of the forthcoming London exhibition, Rwanda in Photographs: Death Then, Life Now.

She is, of course, entirely right.  Think of Rwanda and one of the first things to come to mind is invariably genocide. It may be nearly 20 years since an estimated million people were killed in 100 days, but the loss of around 20 per cent of the population at the hands of the ruling majority has become image defining in the eyes of the world.

It’s a hard impression to shake, but what about the Rwanda that’s one of the only places where you can see mountain gorillas? What about the Rwanda that’s alive with music and dancing? What about the Rwanda that’s home to a history and tradition of art? What about the Rwanda that the Rwandans know?

“Nearly all the images of Rwanda that circulate are by photographers from the Western world,” Norridge continues, “this exhibition gives us a glimpse into how Rwandans look at Rwanda … it’s a much more complex and intriguing view of their own country than we have looking on from the outside.”

So it is that from next month, the Cultural Institute at King’s College London aims to start a new conversation and interest in Rwanda as the diverse and creative culture that it is today, moving past that traditional impression. Featuring photographers with radically different styles, from Yves Manzi whose architectural eye leads to images filled with texture and beautiful lines, to John Mbanda who captures colourful, light, kinetic shots of people working.

Importantly, the contributors themselves are as diverse as their work, and herein lies the gravitas of the exhibition, because it shows something very honest and uncontrived in the photography itself, while the subject matter betrays a quiet and good-humoured strength beneath everyday life. The result of a photography workshop in Kigali in November last year, run by Andrew Esiebo and Brendan Bannon, it features professional and aspiring photographers from photojournalists, those working for NGOs, and a curator with the National Museums of Rwanda, to young people who grew up in an orphanage and have a passion for photography.

In short, Rwanda in Photographs captures life. In its everyday, sometimes humorous, sometimes mundane, sometimes melancholy, glory, but nonetheless ongoing and constantly changing, life. This is the point of the exhibition; life in Rwanda has moved on. The history is there and won’t be forgotten, but Rwandans are looking forward, and if a picture is worth a thousand words then this exhibition is a powerful way for the rest of us to get involved in that conversation.

by Bonnie Friend

The Cultural Institute at King’s College London presents Rwanda in Photographs: Death Then, Life Now is on from March 20 until April 16, 2014 at the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing, Strand WC2R 2LS

It is open daily, 12.00 – 18.00 (until 20.00 on Thursdays)
Free Admission

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