TPAAE researcher Marlena Chybowska-Butler, from the National Museum in Poland, visited the Rwandan capital of Kigali as part of an autumn secondment. Along with volunteer researcher Rick Butler, she visited corresponding facilities operated by both government and non-profit agencies that are aimed at preserving the country’s cultural heritage.
Rwanda Art Museum – Founded in 2000 and relocated in 2018 to Kigali from the Southern Province capital of Nyanza, the Rwanda Art Museum is the repository of Contemporary Art by Rwandan and foreign-born artists. The museum occupies the former Presidential Palace, a site whose grounds contain wreckage of a plane that crashed in 1994 and ignited the country’s genocidal civil war. One of eight facilities operated by the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda, the site is the stage mainly for the permanent collection.
Among the works on display over two floors are those by noted painters Epaphrodite (Epa) Binamungu and Pascal Bushayija. And sculptures by Jean Claude Sekijege and Laurent Hategekimana. The facility also displays work from a passel of foreign-born artists, including those from Kenya and Togo in Africa, and Belgium, Serbia, and Switzerland in Europe, who address themes related to the genocide which informs the country’s modern-day identity.
The quality of the works collected is strong and in styles that range from abstraction and Cubism, to representational studies of figures and animals, and themes from Rwandan history. Although scant space is devoted for female artists, notable works – including a series of wood carvings by unknown artists – address themes of empowerment and draw on legends from tribal lore.
Kandt House Museum – Devoted to the early Colonial period in Rwanda, the Kandt House Museum occupies the former home of the first German administrator of the territory, Richard Kandt, who sited the area then known as Nyarugenge as the territory’s capital. The museum’s exhibits comprise photographs and artefacts from the period, which ended with the country’s defeat in the First World War. Video clips of historians from the National Museums of Rwanda frame the exhibits with updated information based on their research.
The exhibits are arrayed in rooms of the former governor’s residence, which dates to 1909 and is the sole building remaining on the compound. New construction houses offices, an archive, the ticketing-and-gift shop, and an exhibition of reptiles found in the Rwandan countryside. These include snakes and a crocodile, which are testament to the site’s former use as a natural history museum prior to conversion in 2017.
Kigali Genocide Memorial – Sited atop a mass grave containing the bodies of 250,000 victims, the Kigali Genocide Memorial is a somber and stirring testament to the depths of man’s inhumanity to his fellows. It provides solace for survivors and family members of the estimated one million people that lost their lives in 1994, when extremist members of the Hutu ethnic group initiated the slaughter of the minority Tutsi community whom the Belgian colonial government had afforded positions among the governmental and social elites.
The memorial opened in 1999 and is operated by the Aegis Trust, a British non-profit that works to combat genocidal violence and commemorate its victims. The site contains the mass graves dug for bodies collected from across the city in the aftermath of the events of 1994, which still are being parsed by courts and tribunals inside and outside Rwanda. A building constructed not long after the memorial opened houses exhibition rooms that retell the history of the Rwandan experience in photographs and filmed interviews. It devotes space to other instances of genocidal violence around the world, providing catharsis through commiseration for affected populations. And it openly names and shames the international community for its failure to act in what was portrayed outside the country as a tribal dispute.
The memorial grounds contain an archive and giftshop. There are spaces for contemplation and veneration, with visitors encouraged to leave flowers over the chambers that accommodate the remains. The memorial also contains a granite wall into which the names of the known victims are inscribed. That they are few in number testifies to the effectiveness of the action, that saw both adults and children fall victim to neighbors and friends.