Innovation and creativity are essential elements in a country’s growth and cultural development, and Rwanda knows it well. Today, most Rwandan contemporary artists are self-taught, challenging conventional wisdom to inspire their countries’ citizens to aspire for a better future, and engage in cross cultural exchanges and international dialogues. We explore the life and work of 10 talented Rwandan contemporary artists that everyone should know about.
Bonfils Ngabonziza is an extremely talented 26 years old self-taught painter and muralist. After finishing high school where he learnt construction work, he decided to follow his passion for the arts instead. By expressing what he feels inside through the arts, Ngabonziza wishes to communicate messages of peace, love and unity that would inspire people. His art is most often connected to the social sphere, and promoting human rights for all. Ngabonziza is now a member of Ivuka Arts; an art studio located in Kigali. Keeping his ambitions high, Ngabonziza dreams big; he wants to start making a series of murals soon, both in Rwanda and abroad, which would render places visually more attractive and carry a strong message. This, he believes, would be his own contribution to society.
Collin Sekajugo is a very talented, versatile artist who excels in performing and creating a variety of artwork including mixed media work, and paintings. Concerned about healing and social conscience, Sekajugo’s art aims to raise awareness about modern struggles in society including segregation, environmental change, discrimination, and the like. Building his art on elements that either destroy or build our societies, Sekajugo wishes to pass a beautiful message of social transformation to the world. This is also reflected in his art-community building work. Indeed, Collin is the founder of Ivuka Arts which provides promising artists the space for skills development, wider exposure, constructive exchanges, and local engagement to teach art to their community. He is also the founder of Weaver Bird Arts Community in Uganda which came about with the help of various East African artists who worked towards transforming a poor village into an arts community and community-based tourism hub.
Spending an entire childhood reading comic books inspired William Ngendandumwe to create his own. When he started pursuing arts as a profession, William was 18. With the help of his brother in law, he started working on branding and sign posts, as well as interior designs. Very soon however, he decided to work for himself and became interested in painting. Starting in a realist style, he then turned to abstract and cubist art. Ngendandumwe attended many art exhibitions to glean inspiration. Since 2006, he has been member of art studios in Kigali, and has exhibited in a variety of locations, both in group and solo. Today, Ngendandumwe is very keen on sharing his knowledge and experience with others, starting with people around Africa, through his personal project named ‘One Week to Awake the Talent’. In every place he travels, he spends a week or so teaching basic skills in painting and music to encourage people to uncover their hidden talents.
Semutwa, or Tutu, Emmanuel has been creating art for years, but, professionally, he has only been working as a painter since 2006. Since the age of 14, Emmanuel has loved drawing, using his friends as his inspiration. First, his style was abstract, but it slowly developed into semi-realism, to then become a mixture of both. His favorite theme is the every day life of Rwandan women which he beautifully depicts in his paintings. In fact, a Rwandan woman who carries a basket is his signature image. Emmanuel believes that women are a family’s foundation, and that without them, there would be no life. His art however, has another equally strong message to convey: it is essential to work hard and never ever feel contempt for any job.
By experimenting extensively with a variety of unexpected materials, Emmanuel Nkuranga has become one of the most successful self-taught painters in Rwanda. He is also a mixed media expressionist who has gained international recognition throughout the years. Indeed, Nkuranga’s artwork is at the core of contemporary African art. In 2013, together with his brother Innocent Nkurunziza, Nkuranga co-founded the very well-known Inema Art Center located in Kigali which gives talented people the opportunity to follow their passion in art. Passionate about expanding creativity, Emmanuel also founded ‘Art with a Mission’, which creates opportunities for orphans to explore their hidden artistic talents and find means to financially support themselves through the arts.
By far a leading figure in Rwandan contemporary art, Innocent Nkurunziza is a talented painter, sculptor, and jewelry designer who is driven by a strong desire to use arts to change lives. His beautiful style can be seen as abstract and expressionistic. Over the years, his work has been exhibited all around the world. Nkurunziza gets his inspiration from the dynamic rhythms which surround him. Through his work as a visual artist, he wishes to inspire people. Indeed, Nkurunziza is working on promoting the contemporary art scene locally and helping its development. Co-founding the Inema Art Center was an important step towards reaching that goal. It is also remarkable to see how he has engaged the wider community, making arts an inclusive process.
The talented artist Bruce Niyonkuru was born in neighboring Burundi but raised in Rwanda. Even though he never had the chance to travel outside of East Africa, he is still convinced about the universal appeal of his work. When Niyonkuru first started painting, he had no money to afford buying the necessary materials, nor the space to develop his talent. It was thanks to Ivuka Arts Center that he was given the opportunity. One of his pieces called ‘Young Talented Artists’ Dilemma’ depicts such daily struggles local Rwandan artists have to face. The beautiful painting is a colorful one showcasing the many different faces of artists he has met over the years. Niyonkuru also likes telling beautiful stories about Rwandan culture including dances, lifestyles, and dresses through his arts.
Timothy Wandulu is a young and talented self-taught visual artist who grew up in Uganda before moving to Rwanda, where he met his father’s family for the first time. In Kigali, he realized that it was very easy for him to connect with other local artists, some of whom also knew his native language as they had lived in Uganda. Since an early age, art has always been a passion for Wandulu, who created artistic opportunities in the most improbable places. He would use bright colors to pain local village houses, and would brand cows with his personal markings. His inspirations are many, including everyday experiences, history, human issues, surroundings, family life, and finally the natural world. In addition, Wandulu is also a deep thinker and poet.
Moses Izabiriza is a young contemporary narrative painter who is now getting the recognition that he deserves, producing artwork that beautifully transcends natural states of time and space. So far, his work has already been exhibited in a couple of exhibitions in Rwanda, including Imago Mundi which brought Ugandan, Tanzanian, and of course Rwandan artists together. Izabiriza’s passion for the arts has started during childhood when he used to love to draw and paint. When he was 10, he was already making art with wires from the surrounding areas, including motorcycles that he would ride with his friends. Izabiriza is now making a living from art, and is part of Ivuka Arts.
As a survivor, and orphan, of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Jean Bosco Bakunzi has been seeking to overcome his trauma and hatred for the people involved in his family’s killings, channeling frustration through art. As a young boy, he would experiment with pastels, crayons and the like for hours and hours after school, painting his emotions without any form of guidance. Over the years, as he continued painting, Bakunzi’s reputation grew. His beautiful paintings became known for their semi abstract nature, fluidity, unique textures, bright colors, and their themes which explore traditional Rwandan culture. Bakunzi also founded the Uburanga Art Studio which aims to use art as a healing tool.