The Covid‑19 pandemic led to the closing of traditional art galleries and the sale of artworks halted for much of Rwanda’s artist community.
As such, the need to strengthen and push artists through alternative ways that make their creations accessible and affordable became clear.
KomezArt, a web platform was, therefore created as a meeting point between art enthusiasts and artists both locally and in the Diaspora. The platform is an initiative under the umbrella of Kurema Kureba Kwiga, a local public arts organisation, and commercial art service provider.
KomzeArt, launched recently, is also a continuation of Kurema’s contribution to the expansion of the Rwandan visual arts sector and the #MadeInRwanda movement.
Judith Kaine, the founder and director of Kurema, explains that with most of the artists’ clientele not travelling to Rwanda during the lockdown, which is still the case, she thought of doing some sort of liquidation sale of canvases “so that people who are sitting at home staring at their naked wall can buy artwork at a discounted price from artists who had stocked piles of canvases and were no longer on display in the gallery.”
She adds, “With that idea, I talked to different stakeholders about the reality that many people are struggling financially right now, and how to position ourselves as a good time to be selling artwork. I started to think about barriers to the Rwandan market and owning our work, and how to make our work affordable and accessible.
“If we can create high-quality print reproductions as an artwork, then other people can then afford it. If an original costs $1,000 and a reprint is at $50, imagine how many more people can afford it?”
Another barrier she cited artists face, is that a lot of them are very talented but they don’t have a strong e-presence or strong marketing skills. So the idea of creating a marketplace and online gathering that can do that promotion and reach new audiences seemed to be a win-win for artists who then can continue to create their artwork, but then rely on an entity to do the marketing.
“We are beginning in Rwanda and we connected with several artists on social media and asked people to apply. From there, it has been a curatorial process to identify artists with the right style and professionalism, because we want to handle this the right way in terms of managing copyrights and having a supply chain that makes sense so that the work flows easily and professionally,” Kaine added.
For Elie Ahishakiye, one of the artists whose art features on the platform, art in Rwanda is not quite recognised. KomezArt, he says will not just promote artists in Rwanda but worldwide.
Elie Ahishakiye. / Courtesy picture
“It is still hard for people who have chosen this passion to make a living through art.
“After I graduated from Ecole d’art de Nyundo, I was challenged when I realised we couldn’t sell artwork even though we had products,” says Ahishakiye.
He adds, “There were few galleries yet the number of artists was big. So I decided to switch to illustrations, but the struggle was the same. I had to use platforms like Instagram and Facebook to boost my work to reach more people. It made an impact on my career because I got commissions online, but the challenge is that clients come once in a while.
“With KomezArt I can now just focus on creating my inspiration, and what I want to speak through art. The platform will market my painting, find and deal with clients for me while my progress will depend on how much I produce.”
Based in Kigali, the name KomezArt combines the Kinyarwanda word Komeza, which means ‘to continue’ or ‘to strengthen’ something, with the word “art”.
The online platform joins innovative efforts to ease the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic experienced by the creative industries sector, creating sustainable opportunities for artists to sell their work through a borderless gallery that will be prototyped in Rwanda, with expansion plans in the near future.
Debuting 15 artists, the platform will be adding new artists and artwork on a monthly basis, according to Kaine.
The artists are a mix of men and women, a handful of experienced artists, as well as many artists who studied at Nyundo School of Art, such as Bonfils Ngabonziza, Louise Kanyange and Eustache Usabimana.
The platform is aimed at building partnerships with artists so that they have a representation of their own artwork by giving them their own page so that they can do their own marketing.