The project of the Upright Men (Abantu Bahagaze Bemye in Kinyarwanda and Les Hommes debout in French) is part of a long reflection by the artist Bruce Clarke following the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. Responding to a desire to find artistic forms for the memory of such an event, Bruce Clarke created a powerful visual to mark the places of massacres and to anchor the history of this crime in the collective consciousness.
The idea is simple and powerful: painting men, women and children, standing upright and dignified, on the outside of places of memory in Rwanda and elsewhere in the world. These figures, larger than life – often 15 to 20 feet high, silhouettes sketched but with a strong affirmed presence. They are symbols of the dignity of human beings who lived and died in this barbarous genocide. Victims or survivors, these Upright Men stand with dignity, testimonials to the painful history. The intention is to make the victims present, restoring their individuality and reaffirming their status in the human community so that no one can forget.
In the spring of 2014, 20 years after the genocide of the Tutsi, these emblematic images were visible to every corners of the world in solidarity with the survivors. On 7th of April 2014, Upright Men stood on symbolic sites (the Place des Nations in Geneva, the Slave Route in Benin, UNESCO in Paris etc.) with light projections and digital reproductions of very large format in order to fight the oblivion of a part of the history that concerns us all.
This artistic and memorial project has two distinct objectives and two components. The first is to give a strong and beautiful image to the Rwandan people in order to allow a work of cultural reconstruction. For this, it is important to encourage active involvement of the population who thus becomes actors and bearers of the creative project. This mural public art project should be directed by Bruce Clarke and managed by the Collective for the Upright Men in collaboration with the associations of survivors and Rwandan authorities on sites linked to the genocide such as public buildings, schools and churches.
The second part aims to give international scope to the work of memory necessary after genocide, a crime by definition aimed at humanity in its very essence. The international community must pay tribute to the victims, saluting the survivors and recalling the Western implications in the events that led to the genocide in Rwanda. The aim is to make known the history of the genocide and to raise public awareness of the events of 1994 in order to create a bridge between the survivors and the rest of the world. The strength of this artistic and memorial work stems from the fact that it has been reproduced on many sites.
Between 2013 and 2014, the Collective for the Upright Men launched an awareness campaign "Je suis debout / I'm standing upright" supported by Gaël Faye as well as Sonia Rolland and Lilian Thuram. More than 1000 people, coming from a hundred different countries, contributed by sending us their photo standing upright in solidarity with the victims of the genocide. Videos below.