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Kigali photo fest

Rwanda gets contemporary art festival

| DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | Photography is more than the art of taking a picture. It is a powerful story-telling tool. It is, therefore, not surprising that it is increasingly being courted as a medium to narrate the diverse African experience on one stage called the festival.

The Kigali Photo festival is the latest addition on the African contemporary art scene; after the Lagos Photo Fest and Addis Foto Fest.

Hosted under the theme: `In Search of Relevance: Locality and Remediation’, the festival will bring together bodies of work that celebrate Africa’s diversity and foster learning. It will involve workshops on issues that matter on the continent.

The idea is to contextualize the exhibitions and workshops in the global setting. Such context enables varied consumption and understanding of the specific themes interrogated to different audiences across the globe.

An example of such approach is the film ‘The Faces We Lost’ that explores the importance of family photographs for the survivors of the Rwanda genocide. After 25 years of the genocide the survivors remember their beloved ones through family portraits taken during celebrations of different family events and not through death. The notion of keeping memories alive through photography resonates with archiving the past and present that saturates around the world today. The thousands of migrants separated from their families are able to relive those happy moments of yesterday by   a single picture taken before the migration.

Still, the nature of the program for the festival offers intriguing approaches to the appreciation of the objectives of this biennial. The program meanders through guided tours of the main exhibition by the event’s curator, Robinah Nansubuga (Uganda) to workshops with groups of photographers and writers on topics like human rights and culture (Rwandan culture); through panel discussions with key figures like Chris Schwagga, Bathsheba Okwenje and Yves Manzi in the photography discipline on how ones identity  and past connections with different places layer over their positioning at the precise moment.  Such interactive engagement seek to find answers to some of the complex questions photographers encounter in their daily artistic practice, but more so, create inclusiveness for the public for future sustainability of the festival.

With intent to validate this fete to an international stage of contemporary art, the organisers deliberately choose to evoke Bisi Silva’s memory in the festival.  Bisi Silva (RIP) was the founder of the Lagos Centre for Contemporary Art and acclaimed curator of Contemporary Art from Africa. Her artistic practice has been credited to inspire many already and upcoming artists, not to mention the numerous art festivals she curated in and beyond the continent. In providing a stage at the KPF to celebrate her work, the organisers are playing a critical role in the art: keeping her memory alive and also transmit her valuable knowledge to the young generation of female curator she inspired along the way.

The Kigali Photo Fest is another step forward in propagating a new chapter of Africans taking part in their destiny, and therefore undercut the notion of cultural imperialism that dominated the arts for the first part of the 21st century and before. If sustained, it will continue the tradition of interactive and collaborative artistic practices on the continent that includes art festivals, in order to genuinely grow the Art scene within the region and beyond.

The Kigali Photo Festival is organized by the Kigali Centre for Photography is a collaborative initiative by Artistic Photographers in Rwanda. The festival started on 7th- 16th June 2019 in Kigali.

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Image courtesy of the Kigali Photo Fest

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