‘Souvenirs or Landmarks’: The Photographs of Susan Meiselas

Those of us who have experienced war—survivors, soldiers, reporters, aid workers—are haunted by what we cannot unsee. The images recur in nightmares, or distort a vista that hides a personal horror. I wince every time a new visitor extols the beauty of the hills of Rwanda—those of us who witnessed the 1994 genocide do not see neat fields and forests, but ditches of bodies with their throats cut and piles of skulls hidden in the folds of the hills. We lurch between wanting to spare others and a desperate need for them also to see the pictures in our heads. It’s not just that we can’t get rid of the ghosts, but that the pastoral scene boosts government propaganda that Rwandans live in harmony now and no longer fear the neighbors who killed their parents and grandparents. Whatever they say, we know how the past speaks—or shouts—to the present.

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