Now Return My Story, and Wipe My Mouth with Bread | Renée Akitelek Mboya | Freitag, 29.09.2023

v. Sweet Like Honey

In May 2022 we assembled a collective of amateur photographers from the community of Nyabageni in the mountainous Northern Province village of Kingi, in Musanze District. These photographers, from a community of internally displaced people in the foothills of the Virunga Mountains, were challenged to each produce a series of photographs that would tell us their perspective on the story of their community.
If we think about photographs as reflective of certain forms of modernity – often secular capitalist modernities 1Homi K. Bhabha, foreword to Dipesh Chakrabarty, Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002). – the modernity we saw represented in the collection of photos from Nyabageni is, in part, of a people engulfed in sound. The photos we’ve spoken about previously represent a modernity obsessed with war and maniacal violence – photos that are important to the discussion of what a broader archive of conflict might look like but that might be impossible and unethical to circulate in ways that hope to reduce and mediate harm.
Specific to the culture of Nyabageni are rituals of welcome and farewell, for invited guests and for those who stay at home, a series of cyclical ceremonies that fear neither pelting rains nor blazing sun. A form of communication so sophisticated it could only have developed stepping over giant roots on the forest floor – calling up to the honey collectors in the ceiling. We entered the exhibition room at the Northern Corner Gallery in Musanze on the evening of the opening of the exhibition, Biryoshye nk ’Ubuki | Sweet Like Honey, well socialised in these habits – a collective body moving to the sounds of Selina and the yellow jerrycan drums held high above the crowd like a trophy, dense rhythms flowing over us like an ever-rising tide carrying us away at a moment’s notice.
The exhibition room was warm – buzzing with sound and life. The participants of the workshop walked guests through the exhibition, wide gestures and louding voices animating already vibrant photos 2Having ’a louding voice’ means refusing to be silenced by society, having the desire to go for everything good and everything positive that can come… See,that%20can%20come%20her%20way. – an embellished play-by-play of events as they happened, an invitation into the photographs but especially into the community. In these collective retellings, the ethic of the workshop and the consequent photographs emerges – the community of Nyabageni, friends and neighbours all, had arrived in Musanze to share the best of their world and of themselves.
We follow a photo of a young boy – one dusty arm thrown back as though it might propel him forward; he hops on one red-sandalled foot, launching into a two-step we can only imagine shakes the ground with its vigour. His clothes are stained with evidence of play, both muddy and dusty, recalling a freedom only children know; his shoes – red plastic sandals – eaten away at the toe from thousands of hours of dancing, running, jumping, sloshing through rainwater and scraping off mud. A whirlwind of breath and sweat and joyous laughter – songs erupting from throats lifted, facing the sky in constant jubilation.
Communities of ‘Historically Marginalised Peoples’ live in the remotest parts of Rwanda, the ‘borderlands’ 3Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1987). – to borrow a term – high in the forested mountains in a country where there are hills at every turn. In their tempered descent from on high they have often been subject to the injuries of dominant representation, misunderstood and treated with suspicion and scorn in all the regions they call home – Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here, in Musanze, the participants assembled to emphasise the importance of being the authors of their own images, their own stories; performing their wholeness in resistance to a visual and narrative field that has always been, to say the least, unfair.
And thus, we celebrated.
Finally photographs that we can look at, without shame and without fear.

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