Another Wonder From Rwanda

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StatsTo the left you can see yesterday’s viewership of our posts, by country. Viewership has recently been low, for obvious reasons. It has made me wonder whether we should take a hiatus. My counter-thought is, if on a day like yesterday, just one person visited this site and found something of value, we should continue. As of today there have been 696,713 views of all of our posts since we started in mid-2011. Yesterday someone viewed a post I distinctly remember writing some months ago, which brought a smile to my face. And just now I was downloading a file using WeTransfer, and this story presented itself, and it seems a perfect companion piece:

Savane Rutongo-Kabuye Embroideries of the Women of Rwanda

tiger_giclee_-_CopyFor 22 years, 15 Rwandan women have been turning their surroundings and their memories into beautiful textile art. Founded in 1997 by Christiane Rwagatare a short time after the genocide of 1994, the Savane Rutongo-Kabuye workshop offered a distraction, a source of income and a creative avenue to those who had been affected. The workshop has gone from strength to strength, and thanks to educator-turned-curator Juliana Meehan, the embroideries of the women of Rwanda have now been exhibited and seen across the US. Alex Kahl spoke to Christiane and Juliana to explore their uplifting story.

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Due to her home country Rwanda’s turbulent history, Christiane Rwagatare lived much of her early life in exile. When she returned in 1994 in the aftermath of the genocide, the country had been devastated. “It was a very difficult time,” she says. In 1997, when she was visiting a relative in the small village of Rutongo, she saw women selling hand embroidered linens on the roadside, and felt an immediate sense of hope and possibility. At this moment, she recalled all that she had learned about art while in Europe, and knew she could contribute something positive. She announced that she would be starting an embroidery workshop, and asked that anyone interested come to the village church the next day. She was shocked when more than 100 women arrived with samples of their work.

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“I must admit that I panicked,” Christiane says. “I had to explain to them that I could not afford to supervise all of them, since my income was limited and the room I planned to rent from the priests wasn’t big enough.” She was forced to pick the 15 women she could see had the most talent, and in that moment the Savane Rutongo-Kabuye workshop was born.

The women of Kabuye work together to create each piece, each one a colorful depiction of a scene from their surroundings. Christiane or her niece will first make a sketch on paper, and then will transfer this sketch onto canvas, adding details. Threads will be picked that correspond with the colors needed for each scene, and then the embroiderers will begin their work. They use three different colors of thread on each needle, “mixing thread as a painter mixes paint,” which allows them to create a level of depth and detail that does the vibrant scenes justice.

Potential scenes are selected by all the women involved, whatever comes to mind, from aspects of Rwandan culture and things they see on a daily basis to images buried in their memories. “The process of creating a piece is first to draw inspiration from our environment, from village scenes, landscapes, animals,” Christiane says. Antelopes stand majestically before hills and forests looking off into the distance, lions stare straight out at the viewer as they would at their prey. Animated drummers play and villagers dance, and various people are captured in solo portraits, their personalities brought to the fore by the embroiderers. The works are at their most captivating when the landscape is shown in all its glory, from sprawling green plains to shimmering lakes and beautiful orange sunsets.

The embroideries of the women of Kabuye remained relatively unknown outside of the local area until a chance visit from Juliana Meehan, an educator from the US. She walked into the shop as a tourist and fell in love with every piece of work, buying all but one of them on the spot. Christiane invited Juliana and her husband to come to the workshop and see up close how the work was made. “There, in a small house of whitewashed cinder block, 15 women sat with cloth spread across their laps, patiently, expertly creating vibrant embroideries like those I had just bought,” says Juliana…

Read the whole story here.

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