Pax Rwanda: Embroideries of the Women of Savane Rutongo-Kabuye

As a part of our Genocide Commemoration Event, Past and Present: Commemorating Women Affected By Genocidethe Armenian Museum is hosting three special exhibitions made by and for women who have been affected by the destruction of genocide.

The embroideries in the Pax Rwanda exhibition are full-size works of textile art created by the artists of the “Savane Rutongo-Kabuye” workshop, named for the homes of the artisans in the village of Rutongo and the city of Kabuye. The artists are women from both sides of the Rwandan conflict who are working together as part of Rwanda’s rebirth and reconciliation. That is why the exhibit is called PAX Rwanda, literally “Rwandan Peace.” Some of the artists are widows, some are daughters, mothers, sisters, sweethears of the slain; some are the wives of imprisoned perpetrators.

Christiane Rwagatare is the Founder and Creative Director of the Savane Rutongo-Kabuye workshop. She lived outside her native Rwanda for most of her early life because of its longstanding sociopolitical turmoil. Christiane studied embroidery techniques as a pastime while earning a business degree in Romania. Upon returning to Rwanda after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis, she met a group of women in the village of Rutongo who were trying to earn a living by embroidering small linens. Recognizing their skill and desiring to help in Rwanda’s reconstruction, Christiane conceived the idea of a workshop where, together, they could create full-scale embroideries surpassing anything she had seen in Europe. This work is the realization of that vision and is part of the reconstruction, reconciliation, and desire for peace taking place throughout Rwanda.

The artisans of the Savane Rutongo-Kabuye workshop create with needle and thread what the painter accomlishes with brush and paint. Inspired by European masters and equipped with a distinctive style, they begin each embroidery with an original pencil drawing on unbleached cotton. Then they anchor it with simple wooden hoops and bring it to life with their needles. Subtle hues are accomplished by loading three colors of thread onto one needle. Stitches are varied to produce textures and shapes–long, flowing stitches for mountains and sky; tight, tiny stitches for beans and grains. 

Savane Rutongo-Kabuye’s compositions affirm life and convey hope and pride in Rwandan culture from ancient times through the Age of Kings and into the present. Women’s place in society is celebrated in many pieces dealing with dance, basketry, agriculture, and the preparation of food, beer and wine. Recurring motifs include village life, ancestral arts, and the flora and fauna of the nation known as “The Land of a Thousand Hills.”

This exhibit is owned and curated by Juliana Meehan, a New Jersey educator who supports Savane Rutongo-Kabuye’s work. Through Rutongo Embroideries LLC, she purchases the works at fair retail prices and exhibits them in the U.S. Her exhibit has been featured at the Museum of African Art of the SMA Fathers in Tenafly, NJ; The Textile Museum in Washington DC; The Puffin Foundation in Teaneck, NJ; and other art spaces. We are so thankful to have this amazing exhibition at ALMA as a part of our 2016 Genocide Commemoration.