“The dead at Nyarubuye were, I’m afraid, beautiful. There was no getting around it. The skeleton is a beautiful thing. The randomness of the fallen forms, the strange tranquillity of their rude exposure, the skull here, the arm bent in some uninterpretable gesture there–these things were beautiful, and their beauty only added to the affront of the place. I couldn’t settle on any meaningful response: revulsion, alarm, sorrow, grief, shame, incomprehension, sure, but nothing truly meaningful.”
-Philip Gourevitch (We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda)
I haven’t been to Rwanda – but I have seen the pictures, read the words, and jotted a few myself. No, I am not confused. Probably because I haven’t been there. Probably because I haven’t accidentally scrunched a bone under my feet, nor have I been assaulted by rows of skulls cracked open, or the bewildered eyes of those who live today.
The words and pictures of Rwanda’s genocide, overwhelm me with an angry sorrow. No, the dead here aren’t beautiful, but testimony to the brutal destruction of those who were beautiful, with loves, losses, struggles and dreams. They are testimony to an undignified death, and disrespected living. They are testimony to much of today’s sensibilities – shocking the senses to a numbness that solidifies at the surface, closing all the doors to thought. I don’t see a compassionate recollection of the genocide.
To describe the dead in Rwanda as beautiful, romanticizes brutality that Salgado’s angel faces of starving African babies,
and a refugee camp in Tanzania push to an extreme degree.
Yes, there is a fragile beauty in death, in skeletal remains – a beauty that Giacometti captured only too well, and these memorials don’t.
In these memorials, I don’t see anything I want to see.
Brevity may not be my forte, but Cartier-Bresson sums up my opinion on romanticizing brutalitity.
”There is something appalling about photographing people. It is certainly some form of violation. So if sensitivity is lacking, there can be something barbaric about it.”
More on Rwanda’s dead at PRI