The beguiling urge to seek out self-expression has become part of the human experience and has evolved into the spectrum that is the creative industry overtime. Utilizing mediums such as music, poetry, and theatre not only for entertainment but also as communication tools has been used to address social issues, revolutionize communities, and significantly impact change in a variety, however no form of art expression immortalizes moments and emotions as eloquently as visual art. Contributing significantly to the ever-evolving visual art scene in Rwanda is the ongoing Side by Side exhibition curated by Jemima Kakizi, currently taking place at the Niyo Arts Center in Kacyiru. Taking place from February 3-18, the exhibition features eight female visual artists from Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, and Ethiopia that have come together to showcase a variety of artifacts. Much like Kakizi’s previous exhibitions, Side by Side tackles themes such as self-discovery, shattered dreams, emerging desire, and the recurring theme that is feminism. “Visual art is always developing, and I am grateful that talented visual artists from different African countries came together to showcase their work in Rwanda. The exhibition is a diverse representation of different cultures and views and I hope you enjoy it.” says Kakizi. Here’s a review of some of the artwork being exhibited. In and within by Lincka Lydie is a painting that features a woman with a thick Afro attempting to feed herself grapes, and that could be perceived as a vast representation of feminism. The solitude that is brought out by her being the focus of the frame could easily be perceived as a strong sense of independence, which is a sign of major progression from the days when women had no say and were obliged to depend on their men for everything. In and within could easily be described as the precipice or prime on a journey to self-discovery, and one of the most captivating aspects of it besides the appealing aesthetic is the character’s power dynamic. The second piece in Lydie’s catalog is entitled “Inzozi Narose” loosely translated as dreams I dreamt. The painting features a woman rocking an amasunzu hairstyle alongside a queen’s crown draped and surrounded by a fusion of bright colors, the kind that might evoke joy in its subjects. The crown is embedded with a bird, something one might perceive as the high probability of big dreams coming true, based on the simple fact that nothing is impossible at the hand of power, and the crown’s privilege has been positioned to actualize all its owners dream, regardless of how big and unbecoming they might appear to be. The third piece in Lydie’s catalog was entitled second thoughts, and the muse’s indecision is eminent within every aspect of the art piece. Amidst its different color patterns lies a woman with her hands on her head drenched in roses of different shades. The different color patterns allude to the complexity of decision making amidst multiple options and the multitude of colors symbolizes organized mess amidst the chaos, which Lydie was able to bring out through all the pieces she exhibited. Burundian visual artist, Jessie Solana Nihombere exhibited a variety of pieces with a recurring hollow aura. With her craftsmanship, Nihombere brought to life a vivid graphic image of sacrifice, and the downsides of partaking in it. Through her piece ‘Sacrifice’ she portrays a bleeding heart masquerading as wellness to an eye that lacks detail. The woman in white she portrays holding a ripped heart is symbolic of the pain and nobility that comes with sacrifice, and according to Nihombere her wings and white dress are meant to symbolize that her purity which often co exists with the residual pain of doing what’s right on occasions when it doesn’t serve you. One of the other pieces on Nihombere’s catalog featured an imaginative image of a mother giving birth and holding her child above her head without cutting the umbilical cord which is a portrayal of the significance of child birth. Much like her first piece, this painting’s muse is also adorned with white wings and a white two-piece outfit, making white against a dark contrast something Nihombere enjoys experimenting with. One of the more captivating pieces in the exhibition is by Florence Nanteza, a Ugandan visual artist who exhibited a piece titled “Bent But Not Broken.” The piece features a disfigured tree brunch adorned with red roses and peonies in a minimalist way, draped across a yellow sun background. The imagery symbolizes a glass half full perspective in the sense there is a life to be had despite being bent and disfigured, and hope is never lost in the midst of life. The colors of the flowers are metaphorical of bloodshed, and the choice to adorn the disfigured tree with flowers rather than blood stains is a conscious choice to choose the positive, which is a recurring theme this painting seems to bring out. One of the more innovative pieces in the exhibition was handcrafted by Tsega Zewde Rago, the only Ethiopian visual artist being featured in the showing. Her piece “Inner Reflection” stands out for its creativity and diverse elements. Fusing a combination of hand-woven tufting and acrylics, the painting appears to be aesthetically pleasing as a result, and the afrocentricity that shines through and through with the patterns makes it hard to look away. Also exhibiting at the Side by Side showcase is Happy Robert, a Tanzanian visual artist. One of the attention grabbing pieces on her catalog is ‘Together’, a painting that depicts a double portrait of people with a lot of similarities. One of the portraits fades into the other, and it is hard to miss the way they melt into one another, something that could be perceived as an abstract representation of how co-dependency has the ability to succumb one’s sense of self. The painting evokes a need for introspection, and the vivid picture it paints is one that’s hard to forget.