Orphans’ Rwandan

“Africa: A Harvest of Quiet Eyes,” a photo exhibit and lecture series on the art and history of contemporary Africa, is now on display for the UM community at the New Gallery in the Wesley Foundation Building. The focus of the exhibit is a set of 26 photographs taken by the orphans of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The children, some of whom were horribly wounded during the war, were given disposable cameras and asked to photograph images in their daily lives. The images capture the spirit of children in a moving tribute.

“The photos are to contextualize events in Africa,” said Dr. Edmund Abaka, director of the African-American Studies Department and one of the organizers of the event. “We wanted to use the camera as the tool through which we capture daily life and the lives of people in Africa.”

Abaka, who gave the first lecture to accompany the expose, feels the pictures serve another purpose: to dispel misconceptions about Africa, particularly concerning to Rwandan genocide, that are prevalent in the West.


– April: Rwandan President Habyarimana killed in plane explosion
– April-July: An estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus killed
– July: Tutsi-led rebel movement RPF captures Rwanda’s capital Kigali
– July: Two million Hutus flee to Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo
source: BBC News

“The photos can be used to deconstruct the negative image of Africa that we saw on TV all the time,” Abaka said. “This event was designed to show the vivacity of life and the resilience of people who have gone through war.”

The first lecture, titled “A World Gone Mad: Myths and Realities of the Rwandan Genocide,” focused on the historical background of that country and how its political development led to genocidal sectarian warfare resulting in the murder of over 800,000 people in the early months of 1994. Combined with the photos, the lecture had a profound impact on many in attendance.

“I didn’t even know there had been genocide going on in Rwanda,” Chanelle Alexander, junior, said. “They say history repeats itself, but that always seemed like a myth that you never really thought was going to happen.”

Other students said the photos provided them with a clearer perception of the tragic event.

“I didn’t hear much about this in my high school history classes,” Dione Occenad, sophomore, said. “It’s a lot different when you actually see the pictures and hear someone talking about something that really happened.”

>> The photo exhibit and lecture series will continue until Feb. 12. For more information, contact Tracey McSwiney-Kallaher, director of the New Gallery, at 305-284-2792.

Scott Wacholtz can be contacted at

January 28, 2005


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