Several beautiful artworks were on display when I recently visited Rwanda Art Museum- Kanombe, but this one-piece distinctively stood out for me. It had a simplicity that portrayed a homestead with women and men mingling as they went on with their daily lives. However, there was something about its carefully woven texture and sturdy warm colours that was admirable.
With its beauty, it carried a message for women empowerment just like the rest of the other artworks at the exhibition. Through these works, artists (all women) dared to show the diversity and the many ways in which art can be appreciated.
They endeavoured to show how art knows no gender, and through this platform, these female artistes were taking ownership of their own narrative and were portraying this through art.
The exhibition — Women Artists Exhibition — was held under the theme, ‘Messages of Rwandan Women Artists: #EachforEqual’ to shed light on the prevailing gender imbalance that still exists in the field of art.
It has been running for over three months now and over 30 female artistes took part. Works of both international (working in Rwanda) and local artistes have been showcased.
Jemima Kakizi, one of the women artist exhibitors, says she took part in the exhibition because she wanted to be part of the change that would address issues women face through art.
A number of their pieces highlighted issues such as gender-based violence, sexual reproductive health, inequalities as well as challenges with identity, among other issues.
With this, Kakizi says this exhibition was also an opportunity for them as artistes to get to know and share the knowledge with fellow female artists.
“It means a lot, when we work together we achieve great things. It shows that we have many talented women artists and this encourages women to go out there and share their work with the world,” she says.
To her, art is a form of communication and that she uses it to express herself and discuss issues that matter to her.
“Women need visibility, museums and anyone organising exhibitions should always make sure there’s gender balance when they are engaging artistes,” she suggests.
Vivaldi Ngenzi, the museum’s manager, says women have a very important role in society, hence, it is imperative that they tell their stories and be at the forefront in addressing their challenges- even when it’s through art.
He notes that the museum has been collecting artworks since 2006. And of recent, when they made an assessment, they realised there were few works for female artistes.
“They were not well represented as their male counterparts, so we thought of contacting them to submit in their works. This is how we organised this particular exhibition,” he explains.
Ngenzi explains that though they were targeting this year’s International Women’s Day, events didn’t flow as planned because of the coronavirus outbreak.
However, this didn’t hinder their plans as they decided to launch the exhibition online.
“We managed to get 70 people, but more have been turning up ever since the lockdown was lifted. Statistics are, however, still low because we no longer get international visitors or those from around East Africa. Some Rwandans also still fear to go to the public,” he says.
He is, however, hopeful for more to turn up since the exhibition will be running till July 31.
Ngenzi emphasises the need to break barriers for women to be well represented in the field of art.
“We need to offer them platforms for their work to be recognised and appreciated. They face a lot and assume many responsibilities such as caring for the family and working at the same time. This is challenging and this is why they need support.”
Ngenzi also observes that in addition to supporting female artistes, more needs to be done in terms of promoting the art industry in general.
“Rwandans should also have higher education in art. This will help in terms of capacity building, a number of Rwandans are talented in art but they lack training,” he says.
Rwanda Art Museum is the country’s sole museum of contemporary art and displays artworks produced by both Rwandan and international artists.Follow https://twitter.com/DonahMbabazi