Return to Goma: Rwanda

Return to Goma was a project for Printmaking 1 to produce a series of collagraphs. I was interested here in possibilities of print-making to produce evocative single-image narratives.

The sketches and photos were compiled during two work visits to Rwanda in 2014 and 2015.  My first trip was an opportunity to see and understand something of rural life in central Rwanda. My second visit in 2015 was to facilitate a 10-day workshop in Gisenyi for very poor women and men farmers from a coffee cooperative over the border in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2014 Gisenyi itself – just over the border from Goma – had been judged too dangerous. In 2015 the security situation in DRC was still very bad – we could hear bombs very near in Goma. The Congolese participants listened to the radio every day for news, and had to go back through a very long route because of bombings on the road they normally used. Things were very tense – also stories of abductions, witchcraft and murders.

The other notable thing about the area are the active volcanoes. All through my visit Mt Nyiragango just next to Gisenyi was spitting red fire at night. It had last erupted in 2002 and 40,000 people had been evacuated. Lake Kivu also has large amounts of methane and carbon dioxide gas stored under the lake bed – an important source of income for the government. Every so often the gases escape and kill people. Incidence of a wide range of cancers is also very high in the area, particularly for children. Several of the workshop participants had disabled children.

Gisenyi itself was a city of extreme contrasts – I had never seen so many very rich houses crammed together on the hillside using wealth from the army and smuggling, with many more being built (see the sketch of the building in my account of other ideas below). At the same time there were also some very poor people who were refugees living on the streets. Though not very many as this was forbidden, people were scared of the police and refugees were mainly in camps.

Thus my idea for the documentary print as it evolved included a  number of elements:

  • war and bombing
  • the glowering volcano
  • a woman refugee and her baby trying to return

The colour variants explored whether or not I could use the same image in both ways through altering the colours – is this a picture of hope, or despair?

Exploratory sketches from the Car

The landscape was conventionally very picturesque – very green. With beautiful curves of the terracing on the hillsides – something the government was encouraging as part of agricultural development. What struck me most though was the fact that everyone seemed to be walking or cycling and the heavy loads. Very few cars apart from ours. I began to focus on the ways people were stooping and how they were holding themselves as they carried different things – from babies to huge baskets of produce and tree trunks. My technique was to start several pages at once and make quick thematic exploratory sketches to develop ideas and improve my observation.


I  took many photos from the moving car (partly to counter car sickness from sketching). The best ‘photos as photos’ can be found on my photography website:

Photography enabled me to quickly record more examples of themes I became interested in – clothing the people were wearing, differences in social status. I also saw a number of very poor and destitute people along the road. I put these photos into my sketchbook and worked over them with different types of graphite stick and pencil and/or crayon as the beginnings of a documentary.

I also experimented with a range of collage items like wallpaper textures to represent the landscape and worked these into images before producing the final print.

Abstract crops

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