April 7, 2014

On Pieter Hugo's Portraits of Reconciliation from Rwanda

I wouldn’t be the first to suggest that Pieter Hugo’s photographs from the Rwandan Association Modeste et Innocent (AMI) reconciliation project needs no words. The portraits of Hutu perpetrators and Tutsi victims in this NY Times feature, having gone through a formal pardon and forgiveness process, are extraordinary, each in its own way. If the accounts in the text feel brief and stock, reflective of the terminology of the reconciliation program, it’s no matter. The faces are like maps; the eyes, like recorders; the bodies profoundly distant, and yet, profoundly in harmony.

It being both fair and audacious to call them couples, it feels like these pairs have been through hellfire, then grafted together. I can’t speak to how these men, often the direct perpetrators, appear to have replaced the spouse that was murdered. And yet, in a mysterious emotional calculus, there they are — as providers, witnesses, companions, and in some cases, new kin. If the accounts in the text are brief and too stock, reflective of the language of the reconciliation program, the faces are like maps; the eyes, like recorders; the bodies in separate spheres but also striking synchrony. In the case of Deogratias and Cesarie, if her face bears more pain and his, a more tense acuity, the crossed arms convey a steeliness you don’t see in the others.

Also striking is the presentation in our news stream of such deep capacities. Is it so rare that only a genocide and a project of deep reconciliation can bring such expression to the surface? Or, are profound acts of human compassion and reconstitution all around us but mostly transparent to our media?

(photo: Pieter Hugo/New York Times. Deogratias Habyarimana, Perpetrator (right), and Cesarie Mukabutera, Survivor.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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