For Belgian visual artiste Tom Bogaert, art is interpreted according to how the public chooses to. He insists his work is not meant to teach a particular message, but to give his audience food for thought about the past, now and the future.
Just recently, the 53-year-old was in Kigali for his first ever exhibition in Rwanda – one that involves a number of facts about Rwanda’s history, ‘Dog Day Afternoon.’
This is his first time here, but it is certainly not his first interaction with the country.
One of the things that featured at the solo exhibition “Dog Day Afternoon,” which he staged at Ivuka Arts in Kigali, was a series of personalised football shirts marked with dates on which significant historical events happened in the country. The shirts bore jersey numbers ranging from as far back as 1500BC when the Bantu movements and settlements happened, to recent events like the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
In another part of the exhibition, he showcased a video of a passenger wearing an American football helmet taking a taxi-moto ride through a dusty road in Kigali. Made with the background voicing of the O.J Simpson ‘Bronco chase’ that happened in 1994, the video explores relative simultaneity.
A local artist collaborating on the T-shirts project. The T-shirts showcase different years that significant things happened in Rwanda. / Hudson Kuteesa
Bogaert says that the video was not meant to teach any message in particular, but merely give a framework “where people can think about certain things,” not only Rwandans but the whole world.
“I give elements so that people can think and talk,” he said.
His artistic practice is structured around research based on projects that examine the intersections of geo-politics, entertainment, art, and propaganda,
“I invent ways to give material form to international affairs while working across a range of media including video, sound, performance, collage, and installation.
“I pursue my practice by engaging an idea first, and then developing a plan that usually involves a combination of media. I’ve been told that I work in the tradition of the post-conceptual, the post-studio era,” he says.
Though this is his first time in Kigali, he said that the grassroots arts community in the capital city has been incredibly encouraging and supportive.
About the artist
Born in Bruges, Belgium, Bogaert worked as a human rights attorney for the UN and Amnesty International until around 1980.
Between 1996 and 1997, he documented the aftermath of the Genocide against the Tutsi with the UN Refugee Agency in Rwanda’s neighbouring countries.
In 2004, he transitioned from practicing law and made his arts debut with “This is Rwanda”, which was a short experimental video in which he embedded the footage of the Genocide into the interface of an animated computer game. The film had its world premiere at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam, the Netherlands and was included in several film festivals thereafter.
In the same year, he moved to New York City to pursue a career as an artist. He had his first solo exhibition in NYC in 2008 with the legendary ‘Jack the Pelican Presents’ gallery and has since showcased his works in Europe, the US, the Middle East, and North Africa.