Kofi Setordji's genocide monument
Depicting the incomprehensible
- by Wim Bossema
Is it possible to erect a monument to genocide?

To whom would such a memorial be dedicated?

To the dead and their next of kin, to preserve their memory?

That monument will be situated in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, the country where genocide took place in 1994. It is a new building situated against a hill. The building looks out over part of the hilly city; the scene of the crime. The muffled city noise rises from below. Beside the building there is a field; a temporary grave for the remains of tens of thousands of the victims. The building is gloomy, with only chinks of light managing to filter through. It smells of fresh concrete. There are piles of skulls behind glass partitions. The entire building will eventually look like this: room after room of the dead piled up behind glass. It is horrifying, yet sterile. Is that the intention? Further down, there are vaults, even further, a shed with a shabby lean-to made from dried grass. The sunlight filters through the roofing onto piles of skulls, piles of thighbones, heaps of bones, the origins of which you do not want to know. This charnel seems to have no connection to the people to whom these bones once belonged. Until you see a tuft of hair, the beginning of a head, with a face.

What is the reaction of the outsider, the spectator, when confronted with this sight? We look the other way, ashamed because we do not really understand the suffering. Even less the slaughtering carried out by neighbour against neighbour, sometimes friend against friend, by youths stirred up to act out the final settlement. Hutu's against Tutsi's, but why? All of the pertinent explanations for the drama are insufficient to enable understanding the slaughter.

The outsider's bewilderment, deeply moved by far-off events, is expressed in the genocide monument by the Ghanaian artist, Kofi Setordji. The powerlessness to be able to really penetrate the depths of the tragedy, but the compulsion to try regardless. He bombards the subject from all sides, attempting to capture all of the players in sculptures; hundreds of sculptures, large and small. The perpetrators and the victims, the involved parties from the international community, the judges of the Rwanda Tribunal, the dead and the survivors. All ordered, all given a place. The magnitude of the crime and why it touches all of us, laid out in and around his studio for the film by Maarten Rens, and photographs for a virtual exhibition. Then packed away again very precisely in meticulous packages. Perhaps it is not the artist's intention, but that unpacking and re-packing seems a particularly fitting element of this monument. It is not so much a monument for the dead and the survivors; it is a reminder for the far-off spectators to enable them to occasionally re-connect with the feeling of bewilderment, and the conviction that 'this must never happen again'. Setordji's monument must roam the earth, constantly being packed and unpacked.


- Genocide Monument
by Kofy Setordji