Shaban Masengesho’s photography journey started in 2014 in Kigali. But this journey can be traced back to Mainz, Germany, where he did volunteering service from 2013 to 2014.
During his stay in Germany, the young man was frequently confronted with stereotypical images of Africa as a “lost continent”, synonymous with poverty, hunger, civil wars and exploitation, among other vices.
The tipping point came when one day a German woman asked him where he had acquired his Adidas shoes from. It took some convincing on Masengesho’s side for the woman to believe that one can buy Adidas products in Rwanda.
Upon his return home, Masengesho found that Rwandans too held their own stereotypes about life in Europe. His own sister wanted him to confirm if indeed there were persons with disability in Europe.
His subsequent reflections upon these two scenarios is what eventually informed his decision to pursue a career in photography:
His first solo exhibition that opened at the Goethe Institut in Kiyovu, Kigali on Friday night is titled INTERview. A Photo Exhibition on Rwanda and Germany.
“As someone who was really confronted with these stereotypical messages I realised that photography would be my tool to show how I see things because I strongly believe that photography is another world with only one language,” Masengesho explained during a short discussion titled “Power of Images” that preceded the exhibition.
During the discussion, Masengesho hastened to explain that the photographs in the exhibition were not necessarily representative of the entire Rwandan or German realities.
The exhibition features photos he captured between 2014 and 2017. With these, he manages to depict both Rwandan and German culture, lifestyle and infrastructure. The photos further offer a glimpse into the living environments of Rwandans and Germans, and how not so dissimilar the two actually are.
To drive this point home, he juxtaposes the Rwandan images with those from Germany in a way that is intended to debunk the respective stereotypes surrounding life in the two societies. In Rwanda, the pictures capture both rural and urban scenes while in Germany the images portray urban life.
The pictures are accompanied by short stories that infuse both interviews with the people portrayed, and general contextual information on each photo’s setting.
“I am Bosco Ngezahayo, born 1993. I live here in Nyarugenge District of Kigali. Before that I was a farmer in Muhanga district but, thanks to climate change, I was not happy with the harvest, so I decided to come to Kigali to do business …,” reads the introductory text of a story accompanying a picture depicting a small suburban shop.
Another text describes the ubiquitous taxi motos and the central role they play in public transport.
“Through this exhibition I want to offer people who do not have the possibility to travel to create their own image by showing them my view,” Masengesho explained.
The exhibition runs until October 31.