“Garden of Memory”, a space built at the Nyanza Genocide Memorial in Kicukiro District, to symbolically represent what happened during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, was officially inaugurated on Sunday 11 September by the First Lady Jeannette Kagame.
Speaking at the launch, Bruce Clarke, a French visual artist who worked as an artistic adviser during the construction of the space, explained the context of the whole project which he began to think about after his first visit to the country in 1994.
“I visited Rwanda for the first time at the end of August 1994. This time as a photographer, commissioned by several civil society associations in France and coordinated by the CRF (Rwandan community in France – Rwandan Community in France), to bring back photos – for exhibitions, for the press – of how people lived in Rwanda, survived, in the country devastated by the genocide,” Clarke said.
He said it was of the utmost importance to show the world and talk about the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda, the trauma and suffering of the people, the extreme material precariousness of the country.
“At that time in Europe, the majority of photos published were those taken in refugee camps in Zaire (now DR Congo) and Tanzania – photos which, objectively speaking, turned killers and their families into victims,” Clarke said. .
A monument of upright men in the garden is a symbol of the resilience of genocide survivors who decided to move on and move on with their lives.
“The real victims in Rwanda were often missing from the picture. And what that meant was that the rewriting of history and the denial of genocide was already underway,” he added.
Clarke said that two to three years after his first visit, he began to wonder what role art could play in a memorial process, but the challenge before him was: what art form could a memorial take ?
“Proposing a painting or sculpture in a public space would be a pittance – in the face of the enormity of what happened – this work of art had to be huge, encompassing and collectively constructed – to give it meaning,” noted Clarke.
Initially, the intention became to lay one million stones – a symbolic number of Genocide victims.
The stones would be laid in memorial ceremonies by survivors and family members of victims in an individual act of commemoration could come and participate.
A view of the amphitheater to host the Kwibuka events. It has the capacity to accommodate more than 3,500 people seated.
Clarke’s role as a visual artist would be limited to giving artistic form to the laid stones. “It was a cathartic ritual opening, hopefully the start of a grieving process. The stone represents the permanence of memory. It is resilience. The stone is for eternity,” he said. he noted.
But over the years, the initial concept was modified, even in 2002 when the first stone of the now “Garden of Memory” was laid by the First Lady.
The “functionality of straight men”
Prior to 2014, when Rwanda would commemorate the genocide for the 20th time, Clarke met the late Jean de Dieu Mucyo who asked if he could find a painted form to commemorate the genocide “20 years later”.
Mucyo was at the time executive secretary of the Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) and later a senator.
“It was a new challenge. As I said before, no image or sculpture could do justice to the weight of the genocide. However, I took up the challenge. people do individually and collectively?
“My response was that they stand up straight and dignified. The genocidal project – the annihilation and humiliation of a group of people – had failed because despite the death of more than a million people, those who survived are rebellious and live with dignity,” Clarke said.
He then proposed the “upright men” (Abantu Bahagaze Bemye) which literally means standing people, something he describes as a way of telling the story of an unsubdued community, so that they can become symbols affirming human dignity, personifying a community, the survivors, and participating in writing the history of the Genocide.
The Sorghum Garden Sorghum played a big role because many Tutsis hid there and were able to survive, one of the reasons why it is also represented in the garden. Dan Nsengiyumva
He has presented it in more than 25 exhibitions, in 15 countries to date, to tell the story.
Clarke noted that the project was built collectively with survivor organizations in Kicukiro District, with moral support from the First Lady’s office and the Imbuto Foundation.
He added that for him, a work of art is anything that gives beauty and provokes thought. “Who is not passive, who takes sides. Which strengthens our common humanity.