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Two Fires Gallery: Rwanda's Stories Shared through Local Talent

Slow Travel | Africa and Middle East | By Liana Mallia

We chatted with our Experience Designer for East Africa, Christine Tucker, and her business partner, Gadi Habumugisha, about the opening of Two Fires Gallery—a photography gallery in Musanze, the country’s gorilla-viewing hub.


Prior to the pandemic, Christine Tucker, our Experience Designer for East Africa, met with Rwandan native and documentary photographer Gadi Habumugisha while on a research trip in Rwanda.

Gadi shared his story of taking part in Through the Eyes of Children, a non-profit designed to teach photography to the children of the Rwandan-based Imbabazi Orphanage. After discovering his talent for portrait photography, Gadi used his newfound passion to set forth into his community and capture the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.

That was 21 years ago.

TWO FIRES GALLERY OPENS ITS DOORS

Christine Tucker and Gadi Habumugisha at Two Fires Gallery in Rwanda
Christine Tucker and Gadi Habumugisha

Fast forward to 2021, and Gadi’s aim of reconnecting friends and family who were separated during the genocide through photography grew into so much more. Gadi shared with Christine his dream of opening a gallery in Rwanda, and the two pulled the trigger while COVID-19 was at its peak to finally make this dream a reality.

Two Fires Gallery opened its doors to the public in May 2021. For Gadi, his mission of opening a gallery was long-awaited. And while holding the gallery’s first exhibition for travel industry partners was a rewarding experience, it only marks the first chapter of the story of Two Fires—the first of its kind social enterprise to be launched in Rwanda.

The gallery acts as a bridge to communicate the stories of local Rwandan artists with visitors in a respectful way—and provides a space for photographers to visually illustrate the social issues in Rwanda. This allows international guests to have an authentic exchange and be truly connected to the people of Rwanda, as not many travellers who visit the country have the opportunity to learn about the deeper issues that Rwanda faces and interact with the local community outside of gorilla trekking.

Another issue that Two Fires aims to solve is the current disconnect of local photographers available for hire in Rwanda. NGOs often fly out international photographers for events instead of utilizing local talent because Rwandan photographers don’t usually have their work published online. Two Fires aims to broaden the exposure for local photographers by promoting their work, which will encourage the commission of local talent on an international level.

Innocence—A carefree boy plays happily, feeling secure under the watching eyes of a united community. Captured by Gadi Habumugisha.

THE FUTURE OF TWO FIRES

So far, guests who’ve had the opportunity to visit Two Fires Gallery have been captivated by the authentic angle the gallery takes on promoting the education of Rwanda’s social issues, but Two Fires Gallery still stands as a hidden gem in Musanze—because of the current lack of foot traffic, not enough funding is in place to hire full-time staff. And while Two Fires aims to implement regularly scheduled digital storytelling and photography workshops for the people of Rwanda, this goal isn’t possible without an increase of funding and visitors from the tourism community.

While Two Fires still stands under the radar, the amount of talent and unparalleled learning opportunities hidden through its doors is incredible. Every photograph at the Two Fires Gallery is worth 1,000 words. Like Silent Support, which illustrates genocide survivor Boniface Mudenge finding strength and support in his wife Esther and the Bible. Together, they provide the motivation and encouragement to continue his unpaid work across the region. Without her unsung sacrifices and hard work, Mudenge wouldn’t be able to fulfill his mission in influencing Genocide survivors to forgive and perpetrators to seek reconciliation.

Silent Support
Silent Support, captured by Gadi Habumugisha.

Or in Room for All, where Gasenge is relieved to share a bench with his neighbours, a sign of acceptance but not necessarily friendship after a day spent working in the fields together. As part of the process of reconciliation, Mudenge helps to prepare a community for the return of Genocide perpetrators who have finished their sentence.

Room for All, captured by Gadi Habumugisha.

MORE FROM REVIVING HUMANITY

Photographers Gadi and Mussa take us on a journey of reconciliation in the community of Mudende, Musanze District. Through the eyes of local hero and saint Mudenge, these two photographers bring home a story of passion, triumph, and the depths of the human spirit.

For Better or for Worse

Faith and faithfulness are the strengths that have allowed Naberaho Jacqueline to survive the horror years of Rwanda. During the early days of the genocide and their marriage, Abdallah explained his regular absences by saying that he was going to work when in fact he was out killing people. She believed him until he confessed to his atrocities at the Gacaca Courts. Nevertheless, she remained faithful to her husband, paying for conjugal visits, raising his three children and holding out hope for a better future. Captured by Gadi Habumugisha.

Rebirth

Rebirth Two Fires Gallery
In Rwandan culture, cows are an indication of wealth. Abdullah’s return to his village and his fields show that it is possible to start again. With forgiveness from his community, he is free to pick up the pieces of his former life and find rebirth. Captured by Mussa Uwitonze.

Real Faces of Reconciliation

Two Fires Gallery
In this reconciliation meeting, Mudenge brings together perpetrators and victims to foster forgiveness. Here Ribanje (right of center), a perpetrator, meets his victim, Kagiraneza (right), whose family was killed by Ribanje. Mudenge’s regular teachings about forgiveness encouraged Kagiraneza to make the extremely difficult step to forgive Ribanje. The woman pictured was attacked and left for dead. Her attacker has also returned to the community as part of the reconciliation process. Reconciliation does not mean joy; it means acceptance. Captured by Mussa Uwitonze.

Reconciliation Song

Two Fires Gallery
Angelique, Gasenge’s daughter, was born after her father was released from prison. She slowly came to learn about his involvement in the atrocities. Gasenge was honest about his part, and the 13-year-old had to battle with the fear of her own father. Her reflections were captured in a song she wrote for her classmates, which they sang for the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Genocide. This is her generation’s story too. It is a haunting shadow over their identity, from which they will emerge with hope and hard work, into solidarity and light. Captured by Mussa Uwitonze.

End of Innocence

Childen Playing
Part of Mudenge’s work is raising awareness and educating this generation of Rwandans about their history. For these youngsters, learning of the darkness of the past is a heavyweight, but one which they too must learn to carry as a torn society tries to mend its broken threads. Captured by Mussa Uwitonze.

BRUTAL BEAUTY

The gallery’s second exhibition—Brutal Beauty—highlights photos captured by Gadi Habumugisha sharing a simple story of love, acceptance and strength as he brings us into the lives of Beatrice, Sylvester and Anitha, one of the last remaining families on an island in Lake Ruhondo.

Holding the Line
Sylvester, Beatrice and their six-year-old daughter Anitha sit in front of their one-room home on Michael’s Island where, in the absence of community, self-reliance is paramount. Captured by Gadi Habumugisha.

Secure Ground

Secure Ground
Two hired hands work a parcel of land of former island residents who have moved to the mainland but retain temporary ownership over the land. The fertile volcanic soil is what drew the original settlers to these islands. Captured by Gadi Habumugisha.

Portrait of Beatrice

Portrait of Beatrice
Beatrice stands and takes in her surroundings at the close of another day. With no electricity, daily life on Michael’s Island comes to a close with the setting sun. Captured by Gadi Habumugisha.

Long Haul

Long Haul
Beatrice and her children return from collecting grass to feed their animals. A daily chore for women and children includes paddling over to the mainland to cut fresh grass for the animals. Due to the dense population in Rwanda, animals are not set out to graze for fear of disease and eating the neighbours’ crops. Captured by Gadi Habumugisha.

The Roles we Play

Source of Life
Children on the mainland gather at the local water source where Sylvester and his family come to fill their government-issued yellow cans. The daily chore of fetching potable water offers a chance to meet friends and enjoy a laugh. Captured by Gadi Habumugisha.

THE SLOW FUND

Butterfield & Robinson is proud to have made a financial contribution to help launch the Two Fires project as a part of our Slow Fund. Whether through educational, cultural or conservation and preservation initiatives, the Fund helps protect various forms of heritage and promotes the health of vibrant living cultures and the eco-systems that support them.

If you’re interested in visiting the Two Fires Gallery in Rwanda to witness the powerful stories conveyed by these talented photographers, get in touch with a member of our team.

Photography credit: