Art that heals wounds

As a visual artiste, Jean-Bosco Bakunzi has staged several exhibitions, both local and international, and won a fair number of accolades for some of his best pieces.
One of the art pieces that was drawn by Bakunzi. (Moses Opobo)
One of the art pieces that was drawn by Bakunzi. (Moses Opobo)

As a visual artiste, Jean-Bosco Bakunzi has staged several exhibitions, both local and international, and won a fair number of accolades for some of his best pieces.

But it was last year, in the US, at an art show dubbed “The Peace Project 2013” that the young artiste scooped the biggest accolade so far in his professional career that spans over twelve years.

Bakunzi’s piece was voted ‘Best of Show’, beating the works of 600 other artistes drawn from across the globe.

In the award-winning painting, he depicts a woman gracefully holding a drum in one hand, with a white dove flying overhead.

“I created this painting with the question of how humans can treat one another with love and respect, so that the world can one day be a more peaceful place,” he explains the inspiration for the piece.

“In my culture, the drum is a very powerful instrument which represents individual power, and the unique talents of an individual. The woman’s face symbolizes the inherent beauty of human beings. This is something that should never be destroyed. With her one hand holding the drum and the other hand pointing to the dove, she is showing us that we must approach each other with peace and respect,” he further explains, adding that it is the only way we can achieve trust and peace in the world.

His dream, he explains, is for the wider society to embrace the symbol of the drum and what it stands for, to contribute to the betterment of humanity and our natural environment. “If everyone would use their talents and abilities for good, everyone would appreciate one another and the world would be a better place.”

Away from the award-winning piece, Bakunzi is also a bona fide art entrepreneur; the brains behind the Uburanga Art Studio, down the cobbled-stone road past the Lemigo Hotel. Uburanga is one of a handful of newly resurgent contemporary art houses dotted around Kigali.

Uburanga, which means “peace” in Kinyarwanda, comes as a perfect description of the studio’s home, situated in a residential house that boasts a thick canopy of trees in its ample gardens.

Right from the gate, and walking into the facility, one’s attention is drawn to the colourful and playful mix of colours in a creative pattern of paintings, murals, and sculptors scattered on the lawns and hanging from walls.

A total of eleven visual artistes affiliated to the studio call here home.

“This is a place where like-minded artistes meet and work together,” Bakunzi explains. “Here, we strive to bring Rwandan art to life. “It is a place for workshops, exchange of ideas, exhibitions, seminars, and all things geared to helping the youth achieve their dreams.”

How he got into the trade

Born in 1985, in Kigali, Rwanda, Bakunzi has been practicing art professionally since 2005. He describes himself as a self-taught artiste, although he admits to influences from many artistes.

“When I was growing up, my dad used to be a fashion designer. He was my inspiration,” he explains, then hastens to add: “I’m a self-taught artiste who is always trying to learn new things and make my art even better. I know everything about nature, both good and bad.”

He is also glad to have been born in a part of town that boasts a dense population of artisans: Nyamirambo.

“There is a place I used to frequent, that had a group of artistes who always inspired me a lot. One of them, called Bill, was one of the best artistes in Kigali. I learnt a lot from hanging out around them.”

In 2008, more doors opened for him when he met Collins Ssekajugo, the founder of the Ivuka Art Centre.

Before embarking on this project in 2010, Bakunzi had worked several years as a freelance painter, and also with a few of the other art centres around town that are now essentially his competitors.

On a typical day, he loves to build sculptors, preferably out of recyclable materials, but he also has an eye for the abstract.

“When I am producing art, I feel free with my style, and I am empowered to enjoy the movement of my tools. In choosing my subjects, I find inspiration in nature, my surroundings and everyday life,” he explains.

“My art works come from different perspectives. I use sadness, happiness to come up with my art works. I’m a free style person too, so I have a lot of impressions in my pieces. I like to create scenes that can create a story and bring something to life.”

He admits that his works have evolved over the years: “As I have grown in my career, my work has become semi-abstract, and I sometimes show surrealist expressions. I often use a comb to create texture in my paintings. The comb helps me create fluidity and movement, allowing me to fully express my feelings in my work. 

Throughout my career, I have been motivated by the belief that “Art has the power to heal people physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is with this belief in mind that I founded Uburanga Arts Studio in 2010. The studio brings together the most skilled and talented artistes from all over the country with the goal of developing the local fine art scene.”

For this reason, he devotes part of his time to offering free art and crafts tutorials to school children, orphans, and other vulnerable children over the weekends.

For a man whose paintings have won him international accolades, Bakunzi has been off the local art exhibition scene for two straight years.

“Some of the people who already know me miss my works, while many others have never seen it before.”

For this reason, he is organising an exhibition slated for May 10, at his art gallery. The show, he explains, will feature his old and new works, including the award-winning one.


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