Through The Lens

By Gessy Robin Gislain
The experience of the young Rwandan photographer in Canada.
Gessy Robin Gislain

As a Rwandan photographer in Canada, actually, as just a regular black man in a country that is not my own and trying to build my craft, there is really intense and hard. We, mostly Africans put these countries in Europe and America on a pedestal and buy into the “everything, every dream is possible in America“ or “Life is easy living in Europe“. On the contrary, we fail to see, saturated job markets, discrimination against skin color “racism“ that is going around these countries on the low.


I am a photographer, building on to become a director and curator of my own gallery. I live in Canada and I am originally from Rwanda, you know, that land of a thousand hills, lol, I am sure you already know. My experience as a creative trying to build my brand here consists of the following, racism, self-doubt, and money problems.Any black person walking on any land that was colonized by white people expects that they will be racially profiled, discriminated, or assaulted at some point in time, sad reality but true. Institutions will refuse to give you a job just for them to give it right away to the next white person that walks into the room. You will be denied funds, access to some spaces, you will be refused some creative spaces just because our skin in their head looks like a threat to the white ego of dominance and supremacy, afraid that one day what they did to us will turn against them.


Self-doubt and money concerns as a creative are some necessary stages to go through forming your art and curating your content. In a country where any job always has somebody else doing it and going harder at it. Most of us here are just students pursuing a certain degree or diploma and that puts us in a place where we have to be careful on what we do and how we do it because we can be deported anytime any day and that puts a certain cap on what projects you can undertake, what funding or grant you can get for both your art but also your school tuition as well. Tuition is crazy expensive to international students in Canada and that in itself acts as a barrier to some. 


Living outside Rwanda in these countries does not always have downsides, even if they are consistent I still manage to get some good out of it. I gained a lot of mentors, a lot of opportunities that I may have missed out on if I was in Kigali. 
All this to say, It is a double-edged sword, a blessing, and sometimes a curse. We as Rwandans, as Africans are the ones responsible for maintaining our own culture and teaching it to our kids and keeping it alive. It starts from You and I and it is a privilege to be able to represent our society, our culture anywhere we go so tht at the end of the day we may re-build and develop our country to an extent where the need to go abroad to other countries is almos non-existant.

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