During the 1994 genocide, over one hundred thousand Rwandan women were subjected to massive sexual violence, perpetrated by members of the infamous Hutu militia groups known as the Interhamwe. Among the survivors, the most isolated are the women who have borne children as a result of being raped. Due to the stigma of rape and “having a child of the militia,” the communities and few surviving relatives of these women have largely shunned them. In February of 2006, Jonathan Torgovnik traveled to East Africa to report on a story for Newsweek, coinciding with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the outbreak of HIV/AIDS. While in Rwanda, he heard the testimony of Odette, a survivor who was raped during the Rwandan genocide, and as a result of the rape had a child and contracted HIV/AIDS. She described how her entire family had been killed, and recounted the terrible abuse she experienced. Odette’s horrific story led Torgovnik to return to Rwanda to work on a personal project about women like Odette, who were the victims of the same heinous crimes and who were left pregnant as a result. Over the next three years, he made repeated visits to photograph these women and their children, and record their heart-wrenching stories.
Intended Consequences: Rwandan Children Born of Rape brings together Torgovnik’s powerful stories of these women. The exhibition on view at Aperture Gallery is comprised of thirty stunning individual portraits of the women with their children accompanied by their testimonies—intensely personal accounts of the daily challenges they continue to face, and their conflicted feelings about raising a child who is a reminder of horrors endured. The testimonies are presented through text panels, as well as multimedia interviews with the women projected on a wall in the center of the installation produced by MediaStorm. The exhibition also features a large grid with sixteen portraits of the children, and a video interview with Torgovnik.
The accompanying book of the same title will be published by Aperture worldwide on April 7, 2009, coinciding with the fifteenth anniversary of the start date of the genocide, and a satellite exhibition of Torgovnik’s work that will open in the lobby of the United Nations that same day. This commemorative event at the UN will include a solemn reading of testimonies of genocide survivors—including some of the women in the Aperture book and show—by UN officials, well known personalities, and students. Readers to be confirmed include the UN Secretary-General, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and the Rwandan Ambassador to the UN, a genocide survivor himself. Similar readings of survivor testimonies will take place in cities all over the world, including Melbourne, Cape Town, Johannesburg, London, and Tokyo. “The Reading of the Testimonies” is a project of SURF Survivors Fund and Foundation Rwanda, supported by the United Nations, and the UN event will officially kick off the global commemoration.