Twenty years ago, as many as one million people were killed in a brutal genocide that horrifically swept through Rwanda in a little over 100 days. Though it has been two decades since the Rwandan Genocide claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, the healing process continues to this day. In an attempt to commemorate the lives lost, make sense of the mindless violence, and engage the community in thoughtful discussion for the future, Rwanda, 1994-2014: Seven Photographers illustrates the immense suffering and painful healing process of Rwandans over the last 20 years.
On April 24, USD students, faculty, and other members of the community united for the gallery opening of the exhibition in the Fine Art Galleries of the Joan B. Kroc Institute of Peace and Justice. Bringing together seven photographers, the exhibit focuses on the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide, rather than explicitly portraying the 1994 events. While some photographs illustrate the healing process in the small African country, others serve as a reminder that the rebuilding process has only just begun. Walking through the exhibit, it is impossible to avoid the heavy gazes of the survivors, from men and women rebuilding the community in Rwanda to children living in the refugee camps that still run today. The photographs by Riccardo Gangale, Alfredo Jaar, Robert Lyons, Michal Ronnen Safdie, Fazal Sheikh, Paige Stoyer, and Vanessa Vick powerfully capture the reality of pain and, more importantly, the resilience of hope.
Following the exhibition opening, the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies hosted a panel discussion moderated by Kroc Peace Studies Associate Professor Dustin Sharp, JD. “Preventing Mass Atrocities: Lessons Learned from Rwanda” included testimony and commentary from seven panelists, including Dida Nibagwire, a survivor of the genocide, and Paige Stoyer, one of the photographers of the exhibit. The panel also included Daniel Bekele, executive director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch; Philip Lancaster, aide to the UN’s General Romeo Dallaire during the genocide; and Eugene Gatari, a USD alumnus of the Kroc School of Peace Studies master’s program and a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School for Public Policy. Throughout this discussion, panelists repeatedly turned to the same question: What does “never again” really mean, for both Rwanda and the international community at large?
“What we need to remember about the Rwandan Genocide is that nothing about it was inevitable,” said moderator Dr. Dustin Sharp. He then opened the panel discussion to the testimonies of the panelists.
Dida Nibagwire was seven-years old when virtually her entire family was killed in the genocide, including her parents and most of her nine siblings. Her powerful testimony included the poignant story of being on the run with her older sister, but also discussed her road to recovery. Currently, Dida is an actress and a human rights advocate, using theater as a healing process for herself and for others in Rwanda. “People need someone to listen to them,” said Dida about this difficult healing process. “That’s all they need to be free.” She continued, “Out of that deep darkness, you can find a small light and follow it.”
Paige Stoyer, one of the seven photographers of the exhibit, discussed photography as another medium of healing. She spent several years in Rwanda teaching young women about photography. “I think the arts in particular have been a great way to help people heal and try to move forward,” Stoyer observed.
Other testimonies also included this duality of hope and despair. “If we are meant to learn from failure, I must be one of the best-instructed guys out there,” said Philip Lancaster, aide to UN General Romeo Dallaire during the genocide. “It was just us,” he said, recounting his experience in the UN forces and the tremendous failure of the international community to intervene. Lancaster stressed the need for everyone to stand up against such atrocities in the future.
For survivors and spectators alike, the healing process involves an ongoing discussion about the Rwandan Genocide. “I think this is an important moment to reflect on progress made,” said Daniel Bekele of Human Rights Watch. At the same time, there is still a lot of work to do. “If something like what’s happening here at USD right now happened at 100 other universities, we could really make people listen,” stressed Gatari.
“You can’t change the whole world yourself,” said Nibagwire.
With a meaningful panel discussion and captivating art exhibition, USD certainly inspires students, faculty, and community members to create positive change. As long as the community continues to unite in this cause, the world will truly learn the meaning of “never again.”
— Kristen Darling ‘15
Rwanda, 1994-2014: Seven Photographers will be on display until June 6 in the Fine Art Galleries of the Joan B. Kroc Institute of Peace and Justice.
Homepage and top left photo credit: Michal Ronnen Safdie Prisoners Trucked to Hearing, 2002, Digital Print. Courtesy of the artist and Robert Klein Gallery, Boston, MA.