Site-Responsive Collaborations in Rwanda

It’s time to go back to Rwanda. This time, it’s all about International Creative Collaboration…fiber, creative writing, photography, painting.  Again I am going with Master Weaver Melissa Johnson so, of course, we will be working with CHAHBA: INEZA PUTNEY Weaving Cooperative Project. And, with Claudine Uwamahoro, our friend from Kigali who visited us in the US over the winter, we will be working to develop a community project around writing and visual art.

New this journey, after researching artists in Rwanda and coming across this recent NY Times article, I contacted Uburanga Art Studio. We are excited to collaborate with them in various media. One such way is through a new self-funded project, The Dreamers, by New York City-based portrait and documentary photographer, Abby Kraftowitz. “Here’s how it works,” she says. “I provide a printed photograph of a portrait or a scene.  The print becomes a canvas for the artist to create in his or her voice, directly on the photograph with any medium reacting to this image of a perfect stranger.” These photographs are coming with us on the plane tomorrow!

Creative Writing will be a new collaboration this year as well. I discussed with the Uburanga Art Studio my intentions, and instead of formulating a plan before I leave, I will be doing a site-responsive creative writing session with the artists at the studio. My plan is to join with the artists as we individually respond in our own writing to either a Kinyarwanda word or local imagery that I’ve photographed all within a cooperative working space. Kigali is no stranger to cooperative working sessions. According to the NY Times article mentioned earlier: “The lively art scene has turned this once-quiet and traumatized city into a place where not just art openings but also literary readings, dance performances and concerts take place regularly in the courtyards of galleries, and artists give lunchtime lectures at cooperative working spaces.”

Looking forward to keeping you all posted on the collaborations while in the field.

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Big Loop: Claudine’s Visit

Snapshots from Claudine Uwamahoro’s first visit to the USA from Rwanda.

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A New Lens

8\26…Monday in Rwanda. We arrive at the school, Groupe Scolaire Kicukiro, an otherwise primary school with a now dedicated room for adults wanting to learn the craft of weaving as part of the CHABHA program. Melissa Johnson and I find the women and Oscar weaving at the looms. With new loom in tow, it only needed assembly, not an easy task but with Melissa’s expertise, the local craftspeople and the Rwandan music and singing that went along with the weaving… it happened!

The students have only been weaving since late July, when Melissa and her students from the Putney School made their first trip to Kigali.

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Later Monday. Color is already laid on the warp beam.  The students easily work together designing and hand making colorful scarves. While one student will select a range of colors and imagine a design, they often and instinctively collaborate to finish one piece.

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The weaving project brought me to Rwanda, but once there, I met Claudine Uwamahoro, an administrator at the Gasabo School District in Kigali. Her story will move you — She is the sole genocide survivor of her family of 10.

Claudine generously took off from work that week and introduced me to intimate spaces in Rwanda — to schools, to churches, to the site where her family was killed. Below are snapshots of Claudine, wearing the purple dress, with Mary, the woman who hid her in her home and saved her life during the Rwandan Genocide.

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October…The States.  These connections, unanticipated, are reverberating. This week, The Putney School in Vermont is hosting Claudine on her first US trip where she will both teach and learn. Next week, at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island, she will share her story and discuss the legacy of genocide in the lives of Rwandans today.

Weaving and Leaving… Shetlands to Rwanda

Leaving today at noon for overnight flights to Rwanda to work with Melissa Johnson of The Putney School.  This is a follow-up to the trip Johnson and Putney School students made to Rwanda in July. At that time, they brought four Harrisville Looms to teach students how to weave and create income-generating opportunities working with CHABHA (Children Affected by HIV/AIDS). 

Johnson and I are packing a loom and yarn and knitting needles, so I’m going camera simple–bringing only my lightweight digital Olympus E-PL1 and just two lenses…one new that thankfully arrived just in time this morning before my flight. Although we’ll see as I close the bag…still thinking about throwing in a pinhole and a few rolls of film.

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Today’s trip is a second unexpected journey this summer connecting with weavers and textile artists.  In late July, I was in the Shetlands. There were so many highlights to share–like an outdoor circle of 80 knitters working on one project. This circle was made up of both Shetlanders, Nordics and myself… on my birthday no less!

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Knitting Circle at the Böd of Gremista

I was forging my own craft trail– to the South for a lesson in Fair Isle technique with Shetlander Elizabeth Johnston; to the North to visit with fiber artist Iwona Charleson who in addition to spinning yarn from her own croft-raised sheep takes time to create and handcraft one-of-a-kind polymer clay knitting needles.

Then, off to Yell on the ferry where my craft trail got the attention of two young French visitors. They asked to join along while they were en route to Unst, the most northerly point in the UK. I was happy to have co-pilots to remind me to stay to the left while driving to the weaving studio of Andy Ross. Ross is creating artistic and educational opportunities in a remote spot (900+ residents) for all ages. I had been following his blog for a couple of years now, so I couldn’t wait to meet him, see the space and share ideas. He gladly opened the doors to the three of us and within ten minutes had the French visitors weaving on a loom. What a privilege and so much more to share with you all about this part of the adventure. In the meantime, here is a photo of Cami, Carole and Andy at the loom.

Budapest Reel with Lomo Spinner

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Lomography Spinner camera makes for interesting motion when the subject is moving as well. Here the swirl of these Hungarian folk dancers is redoubled by the 360 spinning of the camera lens. It creates a kind of all-at-onceness that you can’t otherwise experience or take in with the eye. This image is a 30″ x 23″ print, scanned from the film and printed on Fabriano Artistico at Indian Hill Imageworks, VT.

Shot in Budapest. While roaming the streets, I walked  into a plaza and found myself in the midst of this festival.

Why I was in Budapest….

My friend Danielle and I were en route to Romania to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. The build was a new home for a widow with two grown daughters; the three of them had been living in a one room dwelling with no indoor toilet, the one-room sat just next to the train tracks. It was the summer of 2011, and it was a scorcher. As we wore hard hats, face masks and goggles, sitting on Romanian scaffolding on the second floor to apply stucco to the exterior of the home… we were so hot, sooo hot in the over 110 degree sun, but we couldn’t help to not feel grateful for all that was back home.

With the crew: Kristin Holmes Rouse, team leader.

With the crew: Kristin Holmes Rouse, standing in white tee, our team leader.On the scaffoldingOn the scaffoldingThe home nearly finished in Cluj, RomaniaThe home nearly finished in Cluj, Romania

Pacific Fog

Point Reyes, California….I heard about the overlook, made my way up from San Francisco with cameras in hand including my Soviet-era, Lubitel remake and plenty of film anticipating the view of the Pacific at that edge of the world but I had to use my imagination because the infamous San Fran Fog rolled in. I wasn’t going to leave without a shot, so I climbed a hill in front of this tree, held the twin-lens Lubitel at my waist, and looked down through the lens just when these two young kids walked past.

Children walking through Pacific Fog, windswept tree at Point Reyes

(Don’t know what a Lubitel is, see below.)

Took the shot with 120 film, scanned to digital, and printed on handmade Amate paper at Indian Hill Imageworks, VT.  This paper has a textual quality that deeply absorbs ink and intensifies the density of the hues.

Soviet-era Remake

What Lomo film cameras have you used?

Headlands Center for the Arts, Marin CA


I’ve been out West this month . . . working on writing and shooting Kodak Portra 400.  I won’t see the image results until I get back next week and develop the negatives, but I did make some iPhone captures.  These color abstractions are a confluence of late afternoon, California light and quarter-inch, steel partitions in the former Fort Barry latrine . . .  now Headlands Center for the Arts.  I was otherwise at the center’s open house with a writing group led by poet Genine Lentine but learned later that the partitions were just one of the design elements added to the space in Bruce Tomb and John Randolph’s, Latrine Projectwww.headlands.org/commissions.asp?key=209&pubkey=13