Exhibition to mark 15th anniversary of Rwandan genocide Special

Posted Apr 6, 2009 by Moushumi Chakrabarty
Fifteen years after the Rwandan genocide, an exhibition of photographs and testimonies of affected Rwandans is being held at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
Rwandan genocide
"Joseline Ingabire with her daughter Leah Batamuliza" from the series "Intended Consequences: Mothers of Genocide, Children of Rape" by award-winning photographer Jonathan Torgovnik. His new book will be published in May 2009 by Aperture Foundation.
(c) Jonathan Torgovnik
Photographer Jonathan Torgovnik put together the two-part exhibition (April 7 – May 1, 2009) after three visits to the country. He spoke to Digital Journal about his experiences and his purpose in documenting the atrocities in the genocide. The first part of the exhibition is called, “Visions of Rwanda”. It deals with the lives of genocide survivors and the challenges they face today. The second part is entitled, “Intended Consequences: Photographs and Interviews by Jonathan Torgovnik” and documents the accounts of several women who were subjected to sexual violence during the 1994 genocide where at least 800,000 Rwandas were killed in a matter of 100 days.
“My aim in putting together this exhibition is to raise awareness of the challenges women particularly, faced after the genocide. Many of them were young girls at the time and became pregnant. They face raising children born of rape. Almost 20,000 children like these were born of sexual crimes during the genocide and their unique challenges needed to be brought into focus,” he said.
Torgovnik’s first trip to Rwanda was in February 2006 for a Newsweek assignment and what he saw there made him go back two more times of his own accord. He investigated the subject and felt it necessary to tell the world about these unfortunate HIV/AIDS afflicted women and children. “The public needs to be exposed to the horrors that they went through. People forget how innocent civilians are affected and bear the consequences even after a long time. My goal is to ensure that this doesn’t happen again,” he said.
Many of the women who gave him their testimonies are survivors, but the scars don’t disappear easily. It was difficult to find women who were willing to talk to him about their lives, specially because of the stigma of rape and having borne children “of the enemy”.
“One story I can’t forget is about this young girl who was two months pregnant when the genocide began. She had to watch her husband being killed and she was repeatedly raped throughout her pregnancy, even when she was nine months pregnant. She finally gave birth to a daughter. But even after that, the rapes continued and less than a year later, she gave birth to a second daughter. She had a lot of conflicting emotions since she felt that the elder daughter was born of love (with her husband) but the younger one was not. She always paid more attention to the older one, picking her up more often etc, till someone pointed out to her that she was favouring one child over another. These women lead complex emotional lives and need help to deal with what they are facing,” Torgovnik said.
Gathering testimonies from these battered women was not easy for Torgovnik. He felt emotionally drained and often he and the team of social workers and interpreters that he worked with, were in tears after hearing the women’s stories.
“These women did not want their community to know of their condition, but they felt strongly that the world should know. The stigma attached to rape and HIV/AIDS is very strong. They felt the world did not help them during their time of need,” he said.
Torgovnik co-founded an organization, Foundation Rwanda/Helping Kids Through Education ( whose mission is to help provide secondary school education for children born of rape. They also guide the mothers to agencies which provide psychological and medical services to these poverty-stricken women. He found that most of the mothers wanted to educate their children and were keen that they have a brighter future. The Foundation is working to raise awareness about these forgotten mothers and children of the genocide.