Birasa on using visual arts to preach unity and reconciliation

Birasa won himself Rwf500,000 for his artwork. / Eddie Nsabimana

Last week, 19-year-old visual artist, Bruno Birasa, won ‘The Visual Arts Competition for the Promotion of Unity and Reconciliation’ award, his very first prize since he launched his career in visual arts, in 2016.

The competition was organised by the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, bringing together different young budding talents from the visual arts sector to present their best creative art works, carrying messages that promote unity and reconciliation among Rwandans.

Birasa co-owns an art gallery titled ‘Birasa Art Gallery’, home to plenty of culture-themed art works, among which he picked the winning art work at the competition.

He spoke to Sunday Magazine’s Eddie Nsabimana on how he best tells stories that promote unity and reconciliation and what the prize means to him and his career.

How did you get yourself into the visual arts scene?

I grew up passionate about visual arts. I may be a high school graduate in Electronics but I did not let my talent go and I am grateful that my father was supportive of my creative skills. He mentored me and helped me set up an art gallery.

The art gallery is very important because it gives people the choice to identify interesting paintings. It is also a place that fit the artworks for the people to tour and witness. It is now my source of living.

What is the message behind the artwork that won you the prize?

The art work is titled ‘Agaseke k’Amahoro’ (Basket of Peace) and I drew it using paintings. Normally, the basket is a symbol of peace in the Rwandan culture. I inserted in the basket the values that Rwandans have in common like culture, social values and taboos among many things. Aside, I drew hills which show that Rwanda is a country of thousand hills, which is one of the features that attract tourists. Finally, I thought of drawing people having their hands together on the basket to show that the country is united and reconciled after all that happened in the past.

What does the prize mean to you as a visual artist?

First of all it is for the people and I hope that they will like the message that it carries.

This is my first prize since I joined the visual art industry. The prize itself is a motivation for me to even do better in my career.

How do you translate a message in your an art work in a language that people understand?

It depends on the theme. In the competition, we were given a theme so we had to do art pieces whose message was relevant to the theme.My inspirations guide me until I have a complete and well finished art work.

Bruno Birasa with his artwork that won the Unity and  Reconciliation art competion. / Eddie Nsabimana

How much does an artwork cost at your gallery?

Art works are expensive, and I set the cost reference to the time it took me to make it, the equipment I used, the efforts and thinking it cost me. It does not really depend on what you invested in term of money. I value the effort I used, especially in thinking.

At our gallery, prices may vary from at least Rwf150, 000 and above.

Where do you think needs more effort to improve your creative career?

You cannot do visual arts without equipment so we need good materials for us to be able make nice art works. We also need competitions that can help detect new talents and give them the exposure and space they need to develop their talent.

 How best do you think an artist can preach unity and reconciliation?

It may depend on the talent you hold. Any artist, like musicians, visual artists, poets or any other artist, can use their talents to preach unity and reconciliation like they do in their everyday art life. Inspiration, however, is key.

In my case, for instance, it took me some time to make that artwork I used in the competition but because I am used to doing culture-themed related art works at our gallery, I had no difficulty making it.

What piece of advice do you have for your fellow artists in regards to unity and reconciliation among Rwandans?

I encourage my colleagues in the art industry to produce art works or products with messages that can inspire Rwandans on unity and reconciliation.  We need to focus more on the message behind the art works than their visibility. Yes, the visibility is important but the message is key.