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.

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.