This was Alfredo Jaar’s Rwanda’s project

Alfredo Jaar - Rwanda, Rwanda, 1994, Public intervention, Malmö, Sweden
Alfredo Jaar – Rwanda, Rwanda, 1994, Public intervention, Malmö, Sweden

Why is Alfredo Jaar’s Rwanda project important?

Alfredo Jaar may have been born in Chile, but this conceptual artist is known today for his encounters with the Rwandan genocide1. Jaar’s Rwanda series is regarded as one of the most important projects centering on war and violence. Though Jaar has certainly done a great job of exploring other mediums, the Rwanda series is considered his signature work. Though the project was seminal in helping to highlight the Rwandan genocide, it also helped the world to question the effectiveness of words over photographic images.

Alfredo Jaar - Rwanda, Rwanda, 1994, Public intervention, Malmö, Sweden
Alfredo Jaar – Rwanda, Rwanda, 1994, Public intervention, Malmö, Sweden

What influenced Jaar’s work

Jaar’s works were highly influenced by his experiences studying film at the Chilean–North American Institute of Culture. After his degree, he traveled all over the world where Jaar would use his travel experiences to inform his works. His projects consisted mainly of installation in public spaces, galleries, and museums.

Video: Alfredo Jaar speaks about his Rwanda Project

11min 2sec

Jaar wants viewers to respond & take action

One of his better-known works, Rwanda, was created between 1994 and 1998 as a response to a unique artistic problem; how to image mass death and genocide in a way that human beings would respond and take action.

Alfredo Jaar - Rwanda, Rwanda, 1994, Public intervention, Malmö, Sweden
Alfredo Jaar – Rwanda, Rwanda, 1994, Public intervention, Malmö, Sweden

Alfredo Jaar - Rwanda, Rwanda, 1994, Public intervention, Malmö, Sweden
Alfredo Jaar – Rwanda, Rwanda, 1994, Public intervention, Malmö, Sweden

Documenting genocide between 1994 & 1998

In the years between 1994 and 1998, Alfredo Jaar dedicated himself to capturing the Rwandan Project, which followed the massacre of 1 million Rwandan Tutsis by the opposing Hutus in 1994. Although he captured thousands of photographs during this time, his images of dead bodies were never released or displayed to the public.

Instead, one of his works consisted of placing posters, bearing the word Rwanda several times, in different European urban centers. This functioned as a call and a visual declaration that forced the rest of the world to connect and engage with what was happening in Rwanda.

Alfredo Jaar - Untitled (Newsweek), 1994, Seventeen pigment prints
Alfredo Jaar – Untitled (Newsweek), 1994, Seventeen pigment prints

Concealing gruesome photos

In Real Pictures, Jaar concealed some 60 of the many photographs he had captured in Rwanda inside black boxes. The top of each black box was inscribed with a caption detailing the image held inside. By withholding these photos, Jaar was emphasizing the impossibility of representing the Rwandan Genocide, while referencing the rest of the world’s indifference to the events.

Alfredo Jaar - The Eyes of Gutete Emerita, 1996. Illuminated text, light table, slides, overall dimensions variable
Alfredo Jaar – The Eyes of Gutete Emerita, 1996, illuminated text, light table, slides, overall dimensions variable

Alfredo Jaar - Let There Be Light - the Rwanda project, 1994-1998
Alfredo Jaar – Let There Be Light, from The Rwanda project, 1994-1998

Alfredo Jaar - The Eyes of Gutete Emerita, The Rwanda Project, 1996
Alfredo Jaar – The Eyes of Gutete Emerita, from The Rwanda project, 1996

Alfredo Jaar - The Eyes of Gutete Emerita, 1996. Illuminated text, light table, slides, overall dimensions variable
Alfredo Jaar – The Eyes of Gutete Emerita, 1996, illuminated text, light table, slides, overall dimensions variable

Video: Alfredo Jaar addresses the holocaust in Rwanda

2h 10min 21sec

Analysis

When Jaar produced Rwanda and revealed it to the world, he helped to humanize the grave political even that was the Rwandan genocide. Unlike other photojournalists at the time, whose works were riddled with images of dead bodies and mass suffering, Jaar’s images were sheltered in black boxes with only descriptions to guide the audience. The images were buried in black boxes with the intention of allowing the victims of the genocide to finally rest, having endured so much while the rest of the world stood by.

Alfredo Jaar - Rwanda, Rwanda, 1994, photolithograph, Edition of 100
Alfredo Jaar – Rwanda, Rwanda, 1994, photolithograph, edition of 100

All images by Alfredo Jaar/alfredojaar.net unless otherwise noted.

Related works

Related readings

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rwandan_genocide
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