Award-winning ‘Remembering Rwanda’ project honours victims and survivors

Led by Dr Julia Viebach (African Studies Centre), this vital work continues to honour victims and survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda

The project has recently been awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Public Engagement With Research.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Genocide in Rwanda. In just 100 days, more than a million people lost their lives at the hands of Hutu extremists. Many of those killed were part of the minority Tutsi community. ‘Remembering Rwanda’ is powerful work that aims to foreground the experience of survivors and remember those who lost their lives. The project is made up of two parts: ‘Kwibuka Rwanda’ and the more recent ‘Bearing Witness’.

Based on Dr Viebach’s extensive research on memory and justice in Rwanda, ‘Kwibuka Rwanda’ was initially held April – September 2018 at the Pitt Rivers Museum. This photographic exhibition focuses on survivors who care for and preserve some of the 243 memorials that commemorate victims of the Genocide. The exhibition explores how these caretakers come to terms with their own grief and trauma in the process of tending to these memorials and the remains that are laid to rest there.

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'Kwibuka Rwanda’ has now toured internationally and continues to be booked for venues around the UK and beyond.

This year, ‘Bearing Witness’ was created as part of the 25th anniversary commemorations of the Genocide against the Tutsi. Its central exhibit, ‘Traces of the Past’, displays objects that connect survivors of the 1994 Genocide to their lost loved ones. It materialises the everyday of the past: laughter, togetherness and precious family moments full of joy.

The exhibit is accompanied by a video installation that features oral history interviews with survivors of the 1994 Genocide who share their stories and share intimate accounts of their lost loved ones and how worlds broke apart.

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Rwandan survivors living in the UK have selected these objects that help them remember and come to terms with their experience. In the video, one survivor, Sophie Masereka, talks about the significance of her chosen object, a bible belonging to her pastor father, Charles Ukulikiyimfura, who was killed. Sophie explains: “the bible is the last blessing my father gave to my mother because he knew that he would never see her again. The bible went on a long journey and saved many lives along the way including that of my mother.”

Other objects chosen include photographs, batteries, a milk preservation container, a drum, sewing-machine and a board game. They are physical reminders of lost loved ones, of their own survival, or of life before the genocide.

Visitors are invited to listen and learn from the powerful accounts of survivors, in the hope they will join them in advocating that genocide should not happen anywhere again.

Dr Viebach said: “Remembering Rwanda encourages us all to foster empathy towards the distant suffering of others at a time of heightened xenophobia and rising right-wing populism at our doorstep. It is important to keep the memory of those who perished alive and raise awareness of the Genocide against the Tutsi. The objects in Traces of the Past and the Kwibuka Rwanda exhibition speak to inhumane acts of violence and the failure of humanity. Remembering Rwanda is dedicated to the victims and to the survivors who demonstrate such incredible resilience and strength in face of unimaginable loss and grief.”

‘Traces of the Past’ ran at the Pitt Rivers Museum until September 2021.