The Garden of Memory

12 images

First Steps

In the huge task of reconstruction in Rwanda after the genocide, every sector of the community has a role to play whether it be in the material or psychological reconstruction. Every sector, including artists. However, confronted with the enormity of what the genocide was, we are obliged to rethink the responses concerning forms of art or "social therapy" which might have been proposed in other circumstances: other circumstances, by definition, incomparable: genocide goes beyond everything. No science is adequate when faced with the scale of the social fracture existing in Rwanda after such an event. Art, some will say, is even less adequate.

There is thus a multiple challenge facing us. How is it possible that a memorial, a "work of art", render justice to the enormity of the event - genocide of the Tutsi population and the extermination of Hutu democrats. Secondly, how can the form of the "memorial sculpture" be dignified and yet communicate the enormity of the event to as many people as possible? Lastly, how can we integrate into its very creation a commemorative ceremony, a cathartic and pedagogic process involving as many people as possible, perhaps even the killers too?

It was necessary to design a "sculpture" which took account the importance of community participation in the construction of the monument. For this reason it is being built as a collective monument in partnership with the principal civil society associations: IBUKA, Pro-Femmes, AVEGA amongst others.

One million stones, each bearing the name or a distinctive sign of a victim, will be posed on a site of approximately one square kilometre.

The construction of the memorial will in itself be a process of remembrance and of contemplation. The commemorative ceremony will consist in the posing of stones. Simple and solemn. Groups of peoples or even individuals will each take a stone, mark it with the name or with a distinctive sign identifying a victim and then place it in an ordered fashion, in series, after a stone previously placed. Each stone will have an individual identity, and yet will be an integral part of the overall memorial representing the totality of the victims.

The stones will be placed by members or friends of the victim''s family in the course of a commemorative ceremony. But not exclusively. Any other person who feels conceerned, Rwandese or not, will be able to place a stone in memory. This ceremony could go on for several weeks or even months. It could even be a long-term process. In the months or years following the institutional ceremonies in April, individuals could come and place a stone in memory. The garden will thus grow on its initial site even after its official inauguration.

Stone, by definition anonymous will be individualised by associating a distinctive sign in remembrance of a victim. This sign could be the name engraved, a photo, a letter etc. It could be permanent or ephemeral. The group of artists working on the project will give technical assistance to those who need it.

The inauguration of the Garden, which took place on June 5th 2000 was a solemn moment. The main associations of civil society in Rwanda are partners in the project. The work is being carried out under the direction of the Memorial Commission of the Rwandese Ministry of Youth and Sport. UNESCO is a financial partner.

Since 2019

 The first stone in this on-going project was placed by Mme Jeannette Kagamé, first lady in June 2000. In this year of the 25th commemoration of the Tutsi genocide, the Garden of Memory will be completed.

One million stones, each representing a victim were to be posed on this historic site of memory in Nyanza, Kicukiro. Stone represents the permanence of memory. It is resilience. Stone is for eternity.

The stones are placed in a garden, representing rebirth after the genocide. The garden is not just an ordinary garden. Every feature here is an allegory of suffering and safety, of despair and hope. It is a Garden of Memory, of many memories.

We cannot count the victims, one million is a symbolic number; there were certainly more. We will not count the stones. The victims are not represented in any figurative form; they only have a symbolic presence in the stones, leaving the trace the victims were never able to leave in their lives, saving them symbolically from oblivion. The stones will be posed in an artistic formation from different central points gradually opening out towards the periphery in ceremonies initiating ritual and the beginning of a mourning process.

Other features in the garden, the forest of memory, the waterways, tell the story of how nature protected and saved, miraculously, a few. The genocidal project failed because there are survivors, there is memory of what happened. This Garden represents that memory.

Some stones have been placed by members or friends of the victim's family in the course of commemorative ceremonies. We hope that, like all gardens, this one will grow. More stones will be posed, more trees planted, more life will thrive.

Other artistic features will soon be created in the garden near to the central amphitheatre and the flame of life. Tall Upright Men, Women, Children, saying to all that we are symbolically still standing. With dignity, with resilience.

We survived. We are upright.