Abstract and full of authenticity, her paintings convey the message of hope in the aftermath of violence. “So much beauty and order among mass killing,” is how Veronika Szkudlarek describes Rwanda.
The Concordia fine arts grad has tried to capture this theme in ‘A Goat for Charlotte’, her latest series of paintings, dedicated to a grandmother she met in Rwanda who cares for nine orphaned children.
Szkudlarek says she paints with the goal of getting people to recognize the roots of the Rwandan genocide, and to ask themselves how to prevent it from happening again in Darfur. It’s not all about death; the artist also paints so viewers can discover life and see what the future holds for the survivors. Szkudlarek is hoping this optimism will serve to educate people about the events surrounding the Rwandan genocide.
Szkudlarek uses abstract blends of rich colour she discovered in Africa – shades of green, brown, red and blue – to “skew perspective to create surrealism,” to maintain a balance between order and chaos.
Rwanda, a land full of lush forests and rolling hills, has scenes of beauty that exist in stark contrast to its blood-stained past. Szkudlarek calls it “the duality between landscapes and history.”
Each of her paintings causes the viewer to reflect on the genocide that took place, not allowing them to turn their heads in denial. One of her paintings, “Post ’94,” pays homage to those who lost their lives through images of their abandoned possessions, the only tangible evidence to prove they once lived.
“‘Post ’94’ is a reminder that we live in a world of ‘posts,'” says Szkudlarek, referring to living in a post-9/11 world, the popular idea that the clock of humanity was reset after 2001. She wants “Post 94” to remind people of other events, such as the Rwandan genocide, that have greatly affected the lives of those living outside Western culture.
Not only is art her method of expression, it’s become her life passion.
The idea of creating an exhibit dedicated to Rwanda came to Szkudlarek after she visited the country for three weeks after her graduation from Concordia in 2007. Inspired by a friend working as a nurse in Nsanga, Rwanda, she decided to paint a mural for genocide orphans at the Mother Theresa Missionaries of Charity orphanage. “I wanted to create something the kids could connect with, but filled with fantasy,” said Szkudlarek.
Both men and women were mesmerized by the mural coming to life on the grey stonewalls, whose bright colours captured the natural beauty surrounding the orphanage. Szkudlarek worked eight hours every day to make sure the mural would be complete by the end of her stay.
All day the children, curious about the evolving images on their orphanage walls, surrounded her.
“The kids reacted to the mural in a very physical way,” she said, describing how the children wanted to touch the paint to feel its texture between their fingers.
When she returned to Montreal, Szkudlarek, inspired by the mural’s effect on people, spent the next eight months creating the 17 paintings that would bring people’s attention back to the tragedy of 1994.
“It’s time to start a process, start a conversation [about genocide],” she says.
Szkudlarek also wanted the paintings to serve in a practical way to answer some of the needs of the community she met in Rwanda. She wanted to use the proceeds from the art to help, but she didn’t see money as the answer.
After consulting with locals, she decided to donate a percentage of each sale towards the purchase of $200 goats, $400 cows, or $10 mosquito nets for the Rwandan community. To be certain the money remains in safe hands, the proceeds will be transferred directly into bank accounts, accessible only by trusted locals.
‘A Goat for Charlotte’, which concluded Feb. 24, outlives its showing at the Quartier Libre Galerie d’art; proceeds from the sale of the paintings will be sent to Rwanda.