What role can art play in the process of commemoration?
In general, visual representation is limited to the field of what is re-presentable. Often, images lack decency and respect for the victims and their families. They also contribute to a trivialization of the horrific images and finally of the horror itself. Is Art able to touch the conscience and help the victims, inducing reverence, respect and a human sense of the memory of the inhuman? A different type of artistic and perhaps therapeutic “re- presentation” could diminish the unbearable memories repressed in personal souvenirs. For the artist, an artwork aims to question the spectator, not to give ready-made answers. Art possesses this ability to provoke curiosity and make one think and this is perhaps the best remedy against amnesia as well as an echo of the struggle itself. Artistic representations, in all eras or conditions of production, contribute to the construction of memory in such a way that in time, years later, they can become the only records of the event. Artwork has played a testimonial role in historic events throughout humanity, relating to personal or collective memory often more than other media. “It is Guernica [by Picasso] an artwork, which reminds us today, over [seventy] years after it happened, of the tragedy of the small Basque village, not the newspapers of the time or scholarly history textbooks.”
Mural art is part of a long tradition - from religious frescoes to contemporary graffiti. Western art has been dominated by murals, especially in the ecclesiastical context. They became a veritable institution in Mexico. Mural art is also used by many contemporary artists: for instance Ernest Pignon-Ernest who made a series of silk-screened images on the walls of churches in Naples or the famous screen prints of the South African Pietà on the walls of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Far from being iconoclastic, the project of the “Upright Men” fits into to a long tradition, while commemorating a contemporary and historic event. These paintings will seal the memory of the victims and the dignity of the Rwandan people on the walls of their country.
Moreover, this technique of public art makes art and history accessible to everyone, including people from outside Rwanda. The reproduction of the “Upright Men” on the facades of important places in the world will create a symbolic bridge between the Rwandan people and the international community. This is extremely important, since our history is intimately linked: Genocide by definition is a crime against humanity; it therefore concerns everybody without exception. What is more, certain responsibilities and complicities must be highlighted and recognized in order to collectively honour the victims and reaffirm the dignity of a human community which will then be able to rise from its ashes.