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The magazine of the art-form of the photo-essay “A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine.  Fabulous!” Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film & documentary maker
April 2014 issue
Rwanda in Photographs Death Then, Life Now
photographs by Andrew Esiebo
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Twenty years after the genocide in Rwanda that led to the deaths of up to a million people, Rwanda in Photographs: Death Then, Life Now brings work by Rwandan photographers to international audiences for the first time. Intimate images of everyday life in the Great Lakes communicate the complexities of survival after mass violence. How do you live side by side with people who killed your families? How can you rebuild lives that were almost completely destroyed? The exhibition is the fruit of a workshop led by award-winning international photographers Andrew Esiebo (Nigeria) and Brendon Brannon (US and Kenya) in which photographers from Rwanda questioned the ways in which their country is portrayed internationally. Too often the country is reduced to images of violence and death, as seen through the eyes of outsiders. For this exhibition, Rwandans have challenged this gaze and now show us their country through their own eyes. The resulting images reveal a nation in the midst of profound change. In capital city Kigali the economy is strengthening, new buildings are springing up and a fashionable elite is taking root. In more rural areas the scars of genocide are still visibly present in ongoing neighbourly tensions and changing but enduring poverty. Complementing the Rwandan photography is a series of portraits of “Returnees” by workshop facilitator Andrew Esiebo. These Rwandans were forced into exile following violence in 1959 and the ensuing decades. Many returned very soon after genocide – keen to participate in rebuilding the country. They come from all walks of life – from taxi drivers to bankers – and are pictured here in their place of work: the office, the studio, the construction site. Many are key figures in the Arts in Kigali. This exhibition marks a step change in the global perception of a country. Photographs by Rwandan artists are yet to be circulated widely among international networks. Now, two decades after the events that brought this small East- African country onto the front pages of our newspapers, we are redressing this. By listening to Rwandan narratives and viewing Rwanda through Rwandan images we come closer to understanding the scale and scope of the country’s journey.
Returnees - a series of portraits by Andrew Esiebo
Andrew Esiebo is an award-winning Nigerian photographer based in Lagos. His photographs explore heritage, popular culture, gender, sexuality, football and migration in Nigeria and beyond. While in Rwanda for the exhibition workshop he extended his series on West African barbershops to examine this typically male space in an East African setting.
Andrew Esiebo’s series of ‘Returnees’ shows those Rwandans who were forced into exile following violence in 1959 and the subsequent decades. Some returned very soon after the genocide, thirsty for home, looking for surviving family members and keen to rebuild the country. Others arrived years later, reassured by ongoing peace and economic opportunity. Returnees come from all walks of life – from taxi drivers to bankers – and are pictured here in their place of work – the office, the studio, the film set. Many are key figures in the arts in Kigali.
The Barber in his shop.
Anne Mazimhaka is Creative Director of communications agency Illume Creative Studio. Born to parents who had left Rwanda in 1959, she grew up in Uganda, Kenya and Canada. She explains: ‘I felt Ugandan most of my life, I wasn’t really aware of my Rwandan identity until the mid-90s. And then I started hearing about everything that was happening in Rwanda through my family, through my people. It was like discovering a new part of yourself. The very first time we came was in 1995. To come home. To see home and to discover it.’ She settled in Rwanda permanently in 2001: ‘When you see your parents and your family without a home, forced to live without a home, there is something that grows in you, that makes you want to be a part of their return journey.’
Carole Karemera is an artist, actress, theatre director, former contemporary dancer and Director of the Ishyo Arts Centre in Kigali. Born in Brussels to Rwandan parents in 1975, her mother was a political refugee whilst her father was a student and was obliged to return to Rwanda. For twenty-five years they maintained a relationship across the two countries. Carole remembers: ‘If my Mum was not teaching me Kinyarwanda she was teaching me Rwandan values and principles. She used to translate poetry and traditional songs for me to understand the meaning. She tried to teach us where we were coming from in a cultural way. It was a way for her not to disappear completely as a refugee. She was using culture as resistance.’
Clarisse Iribagiza is CEO of mobile technologies company HeHe limited. Born in Uganda to Rwandan parents, she returned ‘kicking and screaming’ with her family in 1994. For her 2010, when she started her business, was a turning point: ‘The change was like night and day. I felt like I owned the process of change and transformation that was going on in the country, contributing to it in a way that was significant to me, and simply feeling like I belonged because I had a purpose and was doing something for the country. In my company we work a lot with young people. And when I see how brilliant they are it gives me a sense of hope. We are truly truly going to change the continent. I always tell my friends being in Rwanda is like pitching your tent in the land of hope.’
Eric Kabera is a pioneering filmmaker and founder of the Rwanda Cinema Center. Born to Rwandan parents in Congo (then Zaire), he explains: ‘We lived in exile for more than thirty years but I returned to Rwanda in 1994, right after the genocide, really in the white heat of the aftermath of the genocide. And the whole country was strewn with bodies and smelled of death everywhere. At that time many people needed field producers, fixers, interpreters. So I filled that position and that gave me the need and the drive to tell the story through the eyes of survivors. It was very hard. It can haunt you. But it was an invaluable experience. I’m the product of that particular generation that lived in exile and then came back.’
DJ Eric Soul fled Rwanda with his parents for Burundi, Congo and then Belgium. He returned in 1996: ‘It came totally by chance, by luck. Two years after the war a man came to Belgium to pick up equipment for his nightclub, Cadillac. My name was hot at the time in the black community. So he heard about me and he paid me a ticket to come as a DJ to play music in the club. After the genocide people needed music. So I stayed for three months. It was an awakening. I loved it. I felt a very deep connection, as if a missing piece of my identity was reconnected.’ After returning to the Europe to make a name for himself and African music in London, Eric decided it was time to take his cultural mission back to Africa and he now bases himself out of Rwanda.
Injonge Karangwa, a Kigali-based fashion designer, was born in Belgium and returned to Rwanda with her family in 1996. ‘After 94 a lot of Rwandans started to come back to start this new Rwanda. I was 12 at the time. My father was always talking about Rwanda, this legendary wonderful place. When we arrived it was very different from what we had in our imagination. The country was not like it is now. Such a big change but we adjusted. It was inspirational to be here – a time of the big ideas and debates about what direction the country should take, what democracy should be…’ The feeling remains. Based in Rwanda since 2012, Injonge concludes ‘we have a unique opportunity to build something here – we are the right age at the right time.’
Matthew Rugamba is the Founder and Creative Director of House of Tayo, a Rwandan born brand that channels African sophistication and flavour through locally made contemporary accessories. Born in London, he grew up in the UK, Uganda, Kenya and Swaziland. He describes ‘clicking’ with his Rwandan heritage two years ago whilst studying in the US. But he was increasingly frustrated by other people’s views of Rwanda. He remembers: ‘Returning home, I started House of Tayo out of a desire to show that good things come from Africa and particularly Rwanda. I was tired of being looked at with that pity in people’s eyes. I couldn’t stand up in every classroom and say “fantastic things are happening in Rwanda” but I could produce something so that people would say “that’s cool, that’s unique, that’s amazing, where did you get that from?”’
Teta Isibo is the founder of Inzuki designs, a Rwandan fashion brand specialising in jewellery, accessories and interior decor. Her Rwandan parents fled into exile in 1959 when the killings began. Born in Kenya, Teta grew up in Uganda and returned to Rwanda with her family in 1996. Since moving back, ‘Every year has been different. Initially, I was working in the public sector because I studied urban planning. But what I really wanted to do with my life was design. Rwanda gives you this confidence. I resigned from my job and started doing following my passion. I would definitely not have been able to do that in the UK or anywhere else in the world. But Rwanda being such a young country, you feel like you’ve been given a blank slate, a blank canvas.’
Wesley Ruzibiza is a choreographer, dancer and actor. Born in Congo to Rwandan parents, he grew up in Kinshasa and returned in 1996. ‘The first time we came for vacation. My Dad wanted us to come back. This dream of having a home again. We used to live like refugees and this was the first time we had a country of our own, a nationality we could be proud of…. The second time we returned is another story. There was a war in Congo and they were kicking Rwandese out. We spent 11 months in prison just for being Rwandese and then we were evacuated by the Red Cross at the end of 1999. When I came back for the second time there was this feeling that was really fantastic. I found that for the first time I had a place that was really my home. I was like a fish in a pond. A fish among the other fish.’
The Returnees are part of an exhibition showing the work of Rwandan photographers, portraying their own country through their own eyes. Rwanda In Photographs: Death Then, Life Now is presented by the Cultural Institute at King’s at the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing, London from 21st March – 30th April . The exhibition is open daily 12.00-18.00, and until 8pm on Thursdays. Admission is free. www.kcl.ac.uk/cultural
Rwanda In Photographs: Death Then, Life Now is presented by the Cultural Institute at King’s at the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing, London from 21st March – 30th April . The exhibition is open daily 12.00-18.00, and until 8pm on Thursdays. Admission is free. www.kcl.ac.uk/cultural
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