Intended Consequences @ Aperture Gallery

From the Aperture website:

During the 1994 genocide, hundreds of thousands of Rwandan women were subjected to massive sexual violence by members of the infamous Hutu militia groups, known as the Interhamwe. Among the most isolated survivors are women who have borne children as a result of those rapes. The number of children born from these atrocities is estimated around 20,000. Due to the stigma of rape and "having a child of the militia," the women’s communities and few surviving relatives have largely shunned them. Intended Consequences: Rwandan Children Born of Rape brings together Jonathan Torgovnik’s remarkable portraits of these women and children, and their harrowing first-hand testimonies.

THIS exhibition was utterly harrowing, as it should be. It consisted of testimonial after testimonial by Rwanden women, describing their horrific ordeals at the hands - weapons, knives, broken bottles - of their captors.

Each account was presented as a large portrait of the mother and her son or daughter born of rape, with accompanying interview blown up alongside.

And so many, many accounts - room after room of these story boards, standing at attention one after the other like soldiers on a death march. The more you read, the more you wanted to read, subconsciously searching for some glimmer of hope, as we tend to do, for a respite from the misery. Even a little bit of weak irony. But there was none.

The photographs captured the alienation almost all of the women felt towards their unwanted child, their emotions ranging from ambivalence to guilt-ridden hatred. With few exceptions, the child would be standing some distance from the mother, the space in between a chasm of sorrow and regret.

"I should hate this child, and I did, for the longest time," said one woman (I am paraphrasing here). "But they beat my legs until they broke, I cannot walk, he is the one who brings me water."

Almost all of the women tried to commit suicide at some point, but somehow, found a reason to keep going.

Even more disturbing for me, was the festive atmosphere in the gallery. A groovy crowd talked loudly and incessantly, clinking wine glasses as they huddled with their backs to the portraits. I found the level of frivolity in the room an affront.

If any exhibition should have inspired a silent and thoughtful contemplation, it should have been this one. I heard less mirth at a recent cartoonist's opening. A sad state of affairs indeed.

I would propose the gallery owners not serve drinks at an event like this, but simply provide water, ask people to bring a donation, and to tell as many people as they can to view it.

Thank you Jonathan Torgovnik, and Aperture, for this important exhibition. I hope you don't mind that I illustrated this post with a few movie stills from the slideshow playing in a curtained theater - the only relatively quiet place in the entire gallery.

Aperture Gallery
547 West 27th Street, 4th floor
(between 10th and 11th Avenues)
New York, NY
(212) 505-5555

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