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Inside Kenneth Nkusi’s coffee waste-inspired art gallery

Kenneth Nkusi working on one of the paintings expected to feature at the ongoing International Balloon Museum Foundation Inaugural Exhibition taking place in the United States. / Photos : Willy Mucyo.

While for many visual artists paint remains the most common material for their everyday work, Kenneth Nkusi found a niche in using coffee residues to come up with unique art pieces that put him in a world of his own.

He now takes credit for using his creative mind to develop outstanding pieces out of what would be coffee waste by bringing it to life in a very artistic form in each of his paintings. It is now the main material out of which he explores the beauty in a painting.


It is so surprising, however, that the 30-year-old was not a fan of painting, as he grew up with a dream of one day becoming a pilot. But when he went to university, aviation wasn’t an option anymore, and instead pursued architecture.



His first assignment was with trees around which he started sketching for fun. While his classmates were drawing using computers, he preferred sketching and working with watercolours during his architecture school.

“My thesis was to start an art centre in the community. At one point I was sick for three months from stress. I just painted during that time and it became a therapy,” Nkusi narrates.

Born in Uganda, the Kacyiru-based contemporary visual, Nkusi is the third in a family of six brothers, all of whom are painters.

After attending university, his father encouraged him to paint with his elder brothers, who had by then founded together at Inema Art Centre, one of Kigali’s popular art galleries.

Nkusi stands next to one of his paintings at his home art studio in Kacyiru, Gasabo District. ‬Photo‭: ‬Willy Mucyo‭.‬

“I would help them with sales on vacation, so my interest in art started rising,” he told The New Times.

As he explored more at the gallery, he began experimenting with his painting. He wanted to work with texture as he tried working with wood sawdust.

It was rigid, though, and the idea of using coffee grinds in his paintings randomly came by after spending days thinking of a more flexible material for his paintings.

 “As a painter, you reach a point you feel like it’s boring to do the same thing over and over again. When I was having coffee at Inema, I ran to the café and I took a couple of wet coffee grinds and threw them on a painting that I was working on,”

“I was like ‘Wow! This is the material!’ and since then, it hasn’t disappointed,” he recalls.

By throwing coffee grinds at the canvas, they dried with paint. The whole process on a painting now is mixing the grounds with acrylics which result in a compacted liquid like glue. 

People, especially café employees, may think coffee grinds are just a waste after consumption, but they, in contrast, mean a lot to Nkusi’s career during which his paintings play a big role in conveying important messages to his audience.

For instance, when people think of Rwanda, they often think of coffee. the fact the country is a popular coffee producer helps Nkusi take advantage of that and tells the world, through art, about the story of Rwanda moving from ashes during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi to where it is now.

His paintings suggest that life goes on, after all, with the textures representing not only the hills and valleys of Rwanda but the light shining through the darkness.

 “So, I see the coffee bringing that message that after the waste, we can still get beauty out of ashes. So, it’s been a very good medium to also explain the history of my country,” he said.

 As sustainability in the fight of global warming continues to be a big topic worldwide, Nkusi added that he contributes to the fight by turning the waste of coffee from the cafés into a material that adds beauty to his pieces of art.


Nkusi believes painting, like other professions, makes him a living besides helping him build a status of what he does best in visual arts.

The painter sees gold in participating at international exhibitions as he targets to see his paintings feature in international art exhibitions and take advantage of it in search of foreign market for his works.

“For an artist, the first and foremost prize is to create something that people appreciate and I think that it’s a treasure that I can ever wish for,” he said.

Having previously participated at international art exhibitions in Belgium, France, and recently in Luxemburg, Nkusi’s focus is now turned on having his six balloon-inspired paintings feature at the ongoing ‘International Balloon Museum Foundation Inaugural Art Exhibition’, taking place in New Mexico, the United States from October 23 until January 31, 2021.

During the exhibition, artists from around the world will bring awareness to the joy, adventure, and inspiration of the ballooning culture by creating art that allows the spirit of imagination and adventure to soar.

“Besides routine monthly training sessions with kids, Nkusi plans to use the platform he owns so far and create a foundation that connects Rwandan artists to international artists.

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