In 2004, ten years after the Rwandan Genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people in 100 days, William Snyder III (’06 M.F.A. Art) was inspired to create an installation commemorating the horrific event, one he felt had been omitted from the history books. Today, 20 years after the genocide, he is preparing to mount the installation, “800,000 Acknowledge. Remember. Renew.,” at United Nations headquarters as part of the 20th anniversary commemorative events for Rwanda. He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to transport the installation—which includes 2,500 handmade books with a total of 800,000 pages, housed in 100 crates—to New York City for the exhibition, June 17–26, 2014. The installation is on display at Keystone Centre, 1224 North Atherton St., State College, through June 10. A public reception will be held at Keystone Centre, 6:30–8 p.m., Thursday, April 10.
“Personally, it wasn’t until I’d met a Rwandan in 2004 that I even learned about what happened there in 1994,” says Snyder, who developed the installation as his thesis project. Between April and mid-July 1994, Hutu extremists killed approximately 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu, representing 20 percent of the country’s population. “As an artist, I was moved to do something that engaged a larger community to learn about this event—to tell this story, while also meeting some of the basic needs still on the ground in Rwanda, such as clean water, food, even education.”
Snyder set out to share that story by involving high schools and community groups in assembling the books. Volunteers were involved in folding and collating the paper into the signatures needed for the books, assembling the crates, and binding the books. Participating schools included State College High, Bedford High, Bishop Guilfoyle High, Valley High and the Grier School in Pennsylvania, as well as Salem High in Virginia Beach.
Snyder says he was compelled to involve others in order to give them an outlet to respond to the events in Rwanda. “I was struck that we can watch Hotel Rwanda, be moved and cry, but then go make dinner and go about our lives—without an outlet to respond or do anything for those impacted by what we saw.”
The installation serves as that “outlet” by being both educational and interactive. The historical context of the exhibit is posted at the entrance, and viewers are invited to acknowledge the war, remember the victims and help Rwanda by donating $5 to the Kayinamura Foundation, which funds projects in that country. After making a donation, they can then place their handprint on one page of a book. “The goal, therefore, is to have each life lost acknowledged, remembered and then hope renewed, while raising over $4 million for Rwanda,” says Snyder. To date, funds raised through the exhibit have been used to purchase a water well for the community of Gitarama.
The installation, first displayed in 2006 at Penn State and the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, has already traveled to several locations, including the University of the Arts in Philadelphia; North Adams, Mass.; Bedford, Pa.; and, most recently, Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. For more information, visit eighthundredthousand.info.
Snyder's project was featured on the front page of the Centre Daily Times on March 30. Click here for the story.
Text courtesy of Amy Milgrub Marshall