Kiyovu, Kigali — Step into the Onomo Hotel and you’ll be greeted by stunning city views, a terrace overlooking the Kiyovu Valley, and the Kimihurura and Kacyiru hills. Here, visitors will also discover a captivating live art exhibition titled “RwandaRwaanda” by the talented artist, King Ngabo. Serving as the centerpiece of the lobby, this art exhibition celebrates the artist’s efforts to draw attention to Rwandan mentalities focused on healing and development. The 27-year-old artist beamed with excitement behind his laptop screen, akin to a mad scientist eager to present his latest experiment. As he discussed his collection, Ngabo explained his belief that “contemporary art is the ideal medium to convey Rwanda’s present state to future generations.” He emphasized that certain memories are integral to our identity and cannot be disregarded. Art, in his opinion, is like a book - it teaches and informs people for years to come. Ngabo’s unwavering conviction has earned him the reputation of being one of Rwanda’s most patriotic artists and a passionate advocate for contemporary art. The exhibition is thoughtfully arranged as a sequence of 12 vignettes that portray various aspects of contemporary Rwandan life, including reenactments of historical events. To ensure an authentic representation, Ngabo dedicated himself to the project from 2022, immersing himself in the creative process. “As an artist, once an idea takes hold, it’s hard to find peace until it's fully realised,” he explains. Ngabo began by jotting down his thoughts in a notebook, mapping out the trajectory of his vision. There’s a captivating energy that permeates through an art exhibition retrospective that seems tailor-made for the present moment. The artwork is stretched out on sleek black walls, beautifully contrasting the vibrant flower vases and colorful sofas in the hotel. The rhythmic beats of Afrobeats music fill the space, and some guests are seated indoors, enjoying dinner while scrolling through their phones. However, the majority of visitors are out on the terrace, fully immersed in the experience. Right at the entrance of the hotel lobby where the exhibition was held, a yellow canvas prominently displayed two football players. One player wore a blue jersey, while the other wore orange. Ngabo stopped in front of the painting and asked, “What do you know about Rwandan football?” His grin held a hint of self-awareness as he continued, “In this painting, I aimed to depict Rwanda’s government’s investment in football.” He went on to explain how initiatives like the PSG football academy in Rwanda are instrumental in their goal to become a powerhouse among African teams. He called the painting DREAM. As we made our way south, we stopped in front of a painting that had piqued my curiosity since entering the exhibit. “HEROES,” Ngabo declared, solving the mystery that had lingered for 15 minutes. The painting portrays a Rwandan soldier on a peacekeeping mission in Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique. The soldier is depicted playing football with local children after successfully fighting armed groups that had destabilized the southern African country. “HEROES” aims to promote Rwandan nationalism and honor the sacrifices of the nation’s heroes who have exemplified the highest values of patriotism and sacrifice for the well-being of their country and beyond. Ngabo viewed time as a fluid concept, which is why he created the painting “FREEDOM.” He wanted to convey that the timing of achievements is not as important as the accomplishment itself, especially when it benefits the country. The painting, which was a personal favorite of mine, portrays people dressed in a haphazard manner late at night. Some were dressed casually, while others were in corporate attire, creating a sense of incongruity within congruency. As you observe the canvas titled “CAPACITY,” depicting an office setting, it exudes a message of gender equality. In the conference room, six individuals sit across from one another, while a woman confidently stands at the head of the table. “For us Rwandans, it’s about competence rather than gender. If you possess the skills and talent, you deserve a place at the decision-making table,” Ngabo explained, expounding on the artwork. During our brief tour of the foyer, the beauty of Ngabo’s art was impossible to miss. The paintings exuded a warm and inviting aura, with their colorful Y2k charm and remarkable comfort. The breathtaking view outside the large windows only enhanced the art’s beauty, without detracting from it. However, as one delves deeper into Ngabo’s paintings, it becomes apparent that there is more than meets the eye. While they do depict a nostalgic reflection of Rwanda socio-economic symbolism, they may also serve as a pointed meta-commentary on the prevalent narrative that Rwandans are “unhappy”. Through his art, Ngabo seems to be challenging this narrative and suggesting that it is time to move beyond it. This sentiment is reflected in paintings like “HERITAGE”, where culture, language, and values are cherished. “PROGRESS” acknowledges that Rwanda still has a long way to go in terms of harboring multiple successful global companies, but institutes like the Rwandan Coding Academy will be the value of Africa in the next ten years. In “COMMUNITY”, locals work together in a green field, promoting the “Visit Rwanda” slogan to boost tourism. “GROWTH” emphasizes that Rwandans in rural areas also contribute to the development of the country. “HOPE” features an old man and young child running, symbolizing the state of aspiration and ambition. Ngabo uses “OPPORTUNITY” and “EDUCATION” to advocate for education for all, emphasizing that Rwanda may not be as rich as European countries but strives to provide equal opportunities for all children to be educated. One artwork that is absent from the exhibition holds significant importance - a painting representing different generations across time. It portrays a young man in his 20s, a teenage girl, a little boy, a middle-aged man, and an elderly woman in her autumn years holding hands. Ngabo named this masterpiece “UNITY,” with the intention of making it a focal point of harmony. These individuals are not biologically related but represent a Rwandan family. Interestingly, the artwork was purchased by Moses Turahirwa of Moshions. King Ngabo’s journey to becoming an artist was not a straightforward one. Although he initially pursued a degree in Literature and the Arts, he ended up studying business and economics with a major in finance. However, during the Covid-19 pandemic, he discovered a passion for art and began exploring various creative outlets such as writing stories for children, drawing, making solo plays, and singing. This led him to open Ingabo Corner, a café and creative art space, which served as the venue for his first art storytelling exhibition called “Isaliyuti” in July 2022. Buoyed by the success of his debut exhibition, Ngabo continued to create and showcase his art, and his second exhibition, “Ishuri,” was recognized by the IMBUTO Foundation and toured at Lycée Notre Dame de Citeaux Kigali with plans for further exhibitions throughout the country. Ngabo believes that his art belongs to his community before it goes out into the world, and his goal is to contribute to his community through educational art that benefits them. The “RwandaRwaanda” exhibition which runs through April 30 to May 7, marks his third exhibition and features 100cm x 85cm paintings priced between $1,210 and $1,395. At an earlier exhibit of the work in Ingabo corner, Israel’s ambassador in Rwanda, Dr. Ron Adam, described the artwork as “displays of brilliance, patriotism, entrepreneurship, philosophical skills, and effectively captures the essence of Rwandan culture.” Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), also visited the exhibition. To harness the ambassador’s comment, King Ngabo, I’m going to conclude, has a real love for Rwanda, with all its ideals and values that ripples beneath this exhibition in a way that’s touching.