Heroes of Our Time: Rwandan Courage & Survival

While in London at the end of December, I went down to the London School of Economics where I saw an exhibition produced by the Survivors Fund (SURF) and organised by LSE Arts and the Centre for the Study of Human Rights.

In this exhibit was the testimonies of survivors of the Rwandan genocide, told through video, photographs and writings.

This is yet another reminder that the consequences of war go on a long time after the conflict has officially finished, and people have to live with that on a day to day.

One thing that particularly struck me was this portrait of a woman named Julienne.

Julienne, a survivor. Kigali, Rwanda. Photograph by Andrew Sutton, 2006

It was her smile I saw first. She has a wonderful joyous expression that just makes me want to grin right back at her, as if we just shared some private joke. Then I saw her hand and I actually exclaimed "Oh shit!" out loud.

This, to me, is the remarkable thing about this woman's portrait. The fact that I can see her first as a fellow person before noticing her as a victim. Is that a testament to the the photographer or to Julienne herself? Most likely both. Too often people in her situation are portrayed as suffering victims warranting our help and pity. Too often we forget that it is possible to undergo tremendous hardship and trauma and still retain the ability to laugh and smile.

Many organisations involved in working with the aftermath of all the horrible things we humans do to each other often go to great pains to put a human face on the suffering so that we who live outside of such events might be motivated to help.

What could be more human than to smile in the face of adversity?


Nicolas said...

who is the photographer?

Tom White said...

The Photographer is Andrew Sutton.