Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum exhibition captures many moments of peace, from Cambodia to Rwanda

Cécile Murumunawabo sits in Rwanda’s parliament, where women predominate with 61 percent of the seats. This is among the photographs featured in the exhibit “Imagine: Reflections On Peace” at the Geneva ICRC Museum. 2019 © Jack Picone

‘Imagine: Reflections on Peace’, an exhibition at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum opening today, explores what form peace takes in everyday life after years of conflict.

From the Rwandan genocide to the Cambodian civil war, photojournalists have captured conflict's most tumultuous moments. When ceasefires are reached and peace deals signed, though, the eyes of the world tend to look elsewhere. Fresh conflicts make it easy to forget the countries and people working to rebuild - a complex, arduous, and often unseen process, and one that offers lessons on just what “peace-building” means day-to-day.

'Imagine: Reflections On Peace' , a new exhibition at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, explores the peace-building process through photography. From Sarajevo in 1992-1995, at the height of the Bosnian war, to the 1994 declaration of a ceasefire in Derry following the troubles in Northern Ireland, the show pairs well-known images from these and other conflicts and places them alongside snapshots of these places today, as their residents work towards resolution and recovery.

Many of the photographers revisited countries they knew during the conflicts to document the peace-building process, in some cases returning more than 20 years later. Others bring a fresh lens to the countries' recovery.

2. © Gary Knight VII.jpg
Sophin Sophary, Bomb Disposal Engineer. “I give classes about mine education, the danger of the land mine. I try my best. I think some parents understand what I have done, because sometimes in my village, they come to me and say, ‘I really want my daughter to be like you.’ I say, ‘Send her to school.’” © Gary Knight/VII

“Peace is never a moment, and it's complex,” Pascal Hufschmid, the museum ' s director, explained, noting that the photographs focus on what happens after the moment peace is declared.

The exhibit is based on a book of the same name by the VII Foundation, a collection of photographs and essays by journalists, scholars, peace builders, and civilians. Spanning multiple centuries and six countries, it tells the stories of societies and individuals attempting to heal. The photographs centre around people, largely portraying emotional reunions, street demonstrations, or younger generations working to build a better future.

Peace as ‘a constant, ongoing process.’ Covid-19 restrictions prevented curators from professionally framing most of the photographs. Instead, the images are presented using recycled materials, inadvertently adding another layer of meaning, Hufschmid said. “We constantly had to re-adapt and find agile solutions to challenges we had never faced before,” he told Geneva Solutions. “And that, suddenly, seemed to us totally coherent with what we’re actually talking about, because that is what peace is all about. It’s a constant, ongoing process. It’s not a moment, and we felt suddenly very comfortable sharing this process with our visitors.”

Hufschmid spoke with Geneva Solutions about what he hopes visitors will take away from the exhibition, the significance of exploring peace when so much of the world is experiencing unrest, and why Geneva is the perfect place for this exhibition.

Geneva Solutions: What was the main inspiration for the exhibition?

Pascal Hufschmid: We approached it from the point of view of representation. In the city that has such a big role to play in peace building, peace can often be seen or thought of as a moment.  You see people on television signing a peace treaty and you think, ‘Everything is fine in Colombia’. You are brought to thinking that way because once the big event is over, once the negotiators leave, once the conflict is finished, no one really talks about Colombia anymore.

But of course there is much more to it, and our interest in the exhibition was to focus on those moments of daily life. How is peace experienced in daily life? What happens once everyone is gone? We invite the visitor to open up his or her perspective on something that is essentially a process. Peace is never a moment, and it’s complex.

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A peace demonstration at the Plaza de Bolívar. The peace agreement seeks to protect gay rights and the rights of other minority groups, Bogotá, 26 September 2016 © Stephen Ferry

GS: What is the significance of presenting this exhibition in Geneva?

PH: It’s very meaningful to have it in the world capital of humanitarian action and of multilateral diplomacy. I also look at it as a way to perhaps invite all the professionals in the city – all the experts at the Red Cross and the UN, the many people knee deep into these processes related to peace – to reflect upon the role they play, reflect upon their experience, and listen to the life stories told through the images.

Also, to strengthen the ties with the people in Switzerland, whom we invite to look at how families, fathers, mothers in other countries around the world deal with peace on a daily basis. [We hope they can] look beyond what might be a big label we put on this part of the city – Geneve Internationale – [and see] what it means every day.

GS: What is the main thing you want visitors to take away?

PH: What it has to do with them. In what way their daily lives, their situation, their realities, their decisions, their actions, their reactions shape a community. The big question we ask at the heart of the exhibition is ‘What does peace mean to you?’ We invite people to look at the stories we tell here of Lebanon, Cambodia, Bosnia and other countries and ask themselves ‘How does this resonate with my reality?’ or ‘How do I realise that my reality is so different from these other realities?’ And how about next time, when I watch the news or hear a story, I approach it with a more critical perspective, understanding that there’s always more than a one minute or 30 second story.

5. © Ron Haviv VII.JPG
A defaced photograph that was found by a Bosnian family when they returned to their home in a suburb of Sarajevo, Bosnia, March 17, 1996. The Serbs who had occupied the house left as the city was reunified under the Muslim-led Bosnian government, taking the Bosnian family's furniture and the rest of the belongings from the house and leaving only the photograph. © Ron Haviv/VII

GS: Why was it important to open the exhibition now, during the pandemic?

PH: It’s twofold. On the one hand, [with the pandemic] we’ve experienced extremely intense moments [which] we’ve all endured. That being said, I think it would be problematic to only focus on this experience and to only … think about the pandemic. The world doesn’t stop turning. Situations are complex in other countries. For all of these countries around us – in Lebanon, in Rwanda, in Northern Ireland – the pandemic is just another layer of difficulty, of challenge on daily life. So that is one reason – to not forget that the rest of the world is also experiencing other things.

I also think that if we don’t pay attention to these situations [they] will have consequences on our daily life and our livelihoods here. It’s about not becoming numb to other realities and not forgetting that we are all connected in one way or another.


The exhibit opens to the public on 16 September and runs until 10 January, 2021. For details, visit the museum site.