Amatus Ndizeye (Rwanda)
Christina Chi Zhang
Jessica Jie Zhou
Thank you for Loving Me till the End.
Life, Memory and Reconstruction in Post-Atrocity Bosnia and Rwanda
Living in a world with much ongoing violence and destruction, we are inevitably entering a new round of discussion about post-war reconstruction. Five months ago, Norman Foster made a manifesto about rebuilding the city of Kharkiv in Ukraine. He is ready to assemble the best minds and make a “state-of-the-art city center.” Meanwhile, Ghiath al-Jebawi, Syrian urbanist and architect, has been arguing that reconstruction needs to stem from small-scale, locally driven, context-sensitive interventions. Whichever side we take, are we, the future builders of post-atrocity cities, ready to engage with these socio-political issues?
To engage with the future, we must be informed by the recent past. Located far apart from one another, in Africa and Europe, Rwanda and Bosnia witnessed some of the greatest human disasters in our contemporary era: 1994, the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda; 1995, the Srebrenica Genocide in Bosnia. “Thank you for loving me till the end” takes us through the aftermath and recovery of Bosnia and Rwanda, with topics ranging from personal stories to official histories, from bullet holes in walls to large-scale urban transformations.
The title of this exhibition is inspired by Immaculee Songa, a woman who lost her husband and two toddlers during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. In 2017, twenty-three years after the genocide, she returned to Rwanda and found the remains of her family in a mass grave. Photographer Jim Lommasson took a photo of her family photo album; Immaculee Songa shared her best memories of her family, and decorated the photo with colorful stickers of flowers. At the bottom of this photo, she wrote, “thank you so much for loving me until your last day. Thank you so much for leaving behind you a legacy of love.*”
This is what this exhibition is about. It is about violence, destruction, and the incomprehensibility of mass atrocities. More importantly, it is about the fragility of life, the beauty of love, the resilience of survivors, about living and healing – about what we share as human beings.
* Immaculee Songa’s story is part of the exhibition Stories of Survival: Object. Image. Memory., a project of Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center and photographer Jim Lommasson. The title is an adaptation of what Immaculee Songa had originally written.
“We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families.”
The title of Philip Gourevitch’s book We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families comes from a note written by seven Tutsi pastors who saw the killings get close to their village during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, and sent out the letter for help. They were all killed the next day.
Genocides are planned, not accidental. The world had all the tools and intelligence to anticipate the genocide in Rwanda: the UN Security Council received multiple warnings about massacres being planned before the eventual atrocity, and the UN Genocide Convention, which came into force in the wake of the Holocaust, obligates state parties to prevent genocides before they escalate. Then, why did it still happen? How did it happen? What happened?
Map of Immensity and Incomprehensibility
Christina Chi Zhang
The Map of Immensity and Incomprehensibility shows exactly those of an atrocity. When we read about such an enormous, indescribable concept, what can we grasp from it?
The map is a river of information that runs from the intricate planning of an atrocity to the ultimate healing of a post-atrocity country. Traveling through the long river of destruction and recovery and picking up pieces of history along the way, can we find our place in this immense landscape?
Maps of Kigali and Sarajevo, with Timelines
Christina Chi Zhang
The Maps of Kigali and Sarajevo give us a glimpse of the urban landscape of the two capital cities. The timelines give a concise background recap of the atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia. The chronological progression of the atrocities confronts us with a painful history of how the world - us - were undeniably involved in the two atrocities. We abandoned Rwanda in 1994, and again, Bosnia in 1995. Are we still failing them today?
“Buildings are innocent.”
Vilina Vlas is a hotel in today’s Bosnia. But during 1992-1995 conflict, it was used as a rape camp where Serbian paramilitaries imprisoned 200 local women. Twenty years later, all the evidence of atrocity was erased as the rape camp was converted, deliberately, into a touristy spa resort by the genocide-denying government. When a survivor of the rape camp fights to demolish the building so local victims would not be forced to confront their trauma, another resident made this statement:
“Rationally, you can’t blame buildings. Buildings are innocent.”
Are buildings innocent? In a post-atrocity urban landscape with scarred buildings, how do we decide what to restore, what to demolish, what to bury, what to monumentalize? This chapter includes drawings about buildings in Bosnia and Rwanda with complex political significance. They may give us an answer or pose more questions.
“Wind is how I speak to this world.”
Artist: Smirna Kulenović
Visual Design: Christina Zhang
Audio Design: Vahid Qaderi
Technical Support: Nada
Justice for Women (Netherlands)
Impact: Center against Human Trafficking and Sexual Violence in Conflict (Netherlands)
Medica Zenica (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Solace Ministries (Rwanda)
The title of this chapter quotes a Rwandan woman who survived sexual violence during the genocide. She struggled with finding words to describe her trauma, until she felt that the winds in the valleys of Rwanda could connect her with many others living through the same unspeakable pain.
This chapter features the central artwork of this exhibition: HUU, a VR landscape developed based on interviews with 22 survivors of sexual violence during the conflicts in Bosnia and the genocide in Rwanda. HUU takes its name from the sound of blowing wind, as well as the exclamation of relief when one lets go of the heavy burden on their shoulders.
The survivors were invited to talk about natural landscapes, and through these landscapes, their long journey to healing. In the VR world, their voices inhabit an archipelago of floating islands, where each ecosystem embodies the memory of a survivor. In this installation, there is no mention of the trauma itself, but all about how one lives, loves, finds hope and embraces their life after.
We travel through these islands as a gust of wind, listening to the stories told by survivors and experiencing the landscape of their memories. We are the wind, the witness and the messenger that connects the survivors with the world.
“There is no scale upon which healing doesn’t happen.”
In one of her multiple attempts to revitalize ecosystems damaged during the 3-year siege of Sarajevo, Artist Smirna Kulenović observed a sample of soil contaminated by rusted bullets. What she found under the microscope showed that nature is recovering on all the microscopic and macroscopic layers. She says, “there is no scale upon which healing doesn’t happen.”
History often stops its documentation when a conflict ends. But after an atrocity and before a normal life, lies decades of difficult recovery that we don’t often talk about. Immediately after the destruction ends, what happens to the natural landscape, the urban space and the people?
This chapter creates a space of reflection. We walk through a forest of words, highlighting artworks, poetries and other projects devoted to healing Bosnia and Rwanda on different scales. At the end of the exhibition, we reach the destination, where we can put on the headphones and listen to the sound of today’s Bosnia and Rwanda.