A picture is worth a thousand words, so goes a famed adage.
But for artists, a painting is worth even more than a thousand words. One of the firm believers of this theory is 27-year-old Alex Kwizera, a Rwandan born in the south western Uganda district of Kabale.
With a great passion for art, spanning since childhood, Kwizera started early in life fabricating toys using metal wire, sticks and rubber for his fellow children in the neighborhood. Indeed, this skill turned out to be a lucrative business for him, even though he was still too young to take care of his own bills. “That is when I knew that I was destined to become an artist; and therefore devoted a lot of my time to turning my passion into a lifelong income generating career,” he said.
Today, the Kampala-based artist is an illustrator and painter working at his own art studio called Kwiz Era in Kisementi-Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb, and earns his bread from art.
Equipped with a degree in Industrial art and design from the Margaret Trowell School of Industrial Art and Design at Makerere University, Kwizera was ready to swim in whatever tide life threw him in to advance his career.
Ask him what truly inspires him, and he will say: “As a former [student who majored in anatomy], I am immensely inspired by anatomy in relation to body language and facial expressions. My style of painting has for long been described by both critics and peers as a blend of expressionism and realism.”
He adds that “in everyday life, there is a level of realism in people’s lives that include pain, joy, excitement, thought, sound, movement, drama, inner battles and victories; and as an expressionist illustrator, I work with several themes such as resilience, emancipation, freedom, love, hate, life and death, among others to convey peoples messages.”
His art paintings and other drawing stand out in various galleries across the city; a thing he attributes to the use of variety of expensive art materials such as water color, oil on canvas, oil and soft pastel, charcoal and acrylics. According to him, “everything worth doing is worth doing well.”
Kwizera boasts of having participated in the Sadolin MabARTi challenge under the theme “Your Colour, Your World”, a painting competition organized by a leading paint manufacturer in conjunction with Laba Street Art Festival and the German Cultural Society Center. Under the competition, the task was to beautify Kampala city. The competition attracted 28 reputable artists to compete by creatively painting on three-by-two iron sheets at 28 different locations across the city. Kwizera emerged the second with a cash prize of $500 and an opportunity to showcase his work at a three-week exhibition at the Uganda Museum from July 3-26.
This invariably opened up many other opportunities that have in turn built a profile for him as an artist. He is now a freelance illustrator in the weekend edition of Daily Monitor newspaper in Uganda. This is in addition to fostering and buttressing already existing partnerships as the lead illustrator for Fountain Publishers, MK publishers, Pelican publishers, Longman publishers, Baroque publishers and other advertising agencies as a storyboard artist and concept developer on a consultancy basis.
However, his recent rise to stardom was preceded by hard work in which he participated in several exhibitions such as the Fireworks Annual Exhibitions, competed in the first Ugandan Comic and cartoon contest in 2013 organised by Goethe Zentrum, a German cultural organization, as well as seceral other group exhibitions in the country.
He has now set his eyes firmly on the regional market, but first he wants to have a footprint in his native Rwanda.
“My aim is to spread my wings across the East African region especially Rwanda since charity is said to begin at home and on an international scale.”
His success has inspired many youth and young artists afraid of pursuing art as a career through creation of mass awareness for historical, social and political ideas through illustration, paintings, communication design, cartoons and comic strips.
His desire to give something to the community does not stop at inspiring younger people. Being the Christian he is, Kwizera says: “I believe in the Bible verse that says it is better to give than to receive. This way, God will in turn bless all your works and that is something that I haven’t alienated myself from.” For that reason, Kwizera is a participant in various charity-driven foundations and uses this opportunity to give to the less fortunate.
“I recently held an exhibition at my studio, as the resident artist, in which all proceeds were channeled to an NGO called AND [Attached Not Defeated] that seeks to rebuild hope and strength among people affected by domestic violence. The exhibition took place in March 2014.”
Apparently, he is working on a children’s book on folk tales of Somalia, a Rwandan super hero comic book on fighting crime, and MIXA kids; an online platform for stories written by children for fellow children across East Africa. “All these are aimed at interesting children in art at an early age” he said.
Back to the roots
Listening to the song Am an alien with a verse that goes “Am an Englishman in New York…” reminds Kwizera of what an alien he has for long been owing to his Rwandan origin, despite being a Ugandan by birth. “I long to practice and set up in Rwanda but most importantly mix with my people. I am actually planning to set up a branch of Kwiz Era Studio in Kigali so as to interact with the people and also share the cultural diversity I have been exposed to through all my work.”
Having known his ambitions from childhood and started school in Uganda—a country with a different education system, it wasn’t possible for him to easily switch to the Rwandan system also partly due to a claim that teaching of art in Rwanda was not as advanced as in Uganda.
Kwizera continues to dream beyond a having a footprint in Rwanda. “I however dream of owning art museums across East Africa for works from all over Africa, detailing the cultural diversity of the people of Africa—displaying both our similarities and differences. I dream of Africa free of war, full of love, people that understand their history and countries that live for inventing their own future.”
Asked as to where he sees himself in the next five years, he said: “I envision a bright future with accolades as a winner of several art challenges, teaching the youth about art and how therapeutic it can be, a career, business or tool for change.”
As expected, the road to success is not smooth and rosy as there are always ought to be many challenges along the way. To this end, Kwizera equally attests to having a fair share of challenges in his career.
Many-a-time, audiences at the exhibition never understand art, so they are likely to exploit artists while many put less effort on promoting art as a resource, a career or a source of income and looking down upon it as a less likely channel to the unmapped areas in society.
Quoting Vincent Van Gogh who said: “If you hear a voice within you saying you can’t paint, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced”, Kwizera adds that “to fellow artists, our vocation is much bigger than ourselves and we ought to work together to make the world a better, colorful and brighter place.”
And to those pursuing different careers, he urges that they embrace teamwork, read and learn more, visit people and different places, experiment more and believe in something.