Benjamin Rusagara on using art for reconciliation and healing

A portrait showing the journey of resilience after the tragedy that took the lives of more than a million lives in the Genocide against the Tutsi. Courtesy

Growing up in an artistic family, it wasn’t difficult for Benjamin Rusagara to learn a few things connected to art. 

Although other members of the family did art for fun, it wasn’t the case with him as he created a strong relationship, companionship, happiness, and comfort with art.


Having lost his parents at a tender age, Rusagara focused more on art as a way of coping with loneliness and pain. He decided to use his art as a way that people can create unity and heal from their past experiences. 


This led to the genesis of his art company, “Cyenge arts” in 2015, that was formed to pass a message of togetherness and showcase the beauty of the African culture through art.


Having studied Science subjects in Secondary school, his family didn’t fancy the fact that he was sparing more time on art, but with time, they learnt to appreciate his talent.

He also conducts art lessons for children during holidays to develop a generation of talented young artists. He spoke to Sunday Magazine’s Joan Mbabazi about his journey in the arts’ profession, challenges and much more.

First and foremost, tell us about your on-going art classes for children.

Being a long holiday, I thought I would pass on my skills to the little ones. I want to offer an opportunity for children that are willing and ready to explore the world of art. The classes will take place from December 2, for a period of one month. I am targeting children from the age of six to twelve years.

We believe it is not the first time you have conducted such art classes, when did you start training children how to draw, and why?

It’s been about three years. When I looked at how kids spent their time running around and playing, I immediately thought of a way of how to keep them busy but in a creative way.

Benjamin Rusagara with his colleague Phiona Ninsiima during the interview at The New Times offices at Gishushu.

I started with a group of a few children that I could teach over the holidays. I taught them how to make all kinds of creativities, from painting, paper works, and installation, among others. We started with children of four years to ten.

It is quite a young age, how do you keep the kids attentive so that they don’t get distracted?

We don’t make art so serious, they draw lines, learn the basics of painting primary colors. We can ask them to paint their parents, which they enjoy doing. 
Which kind of art do you specialise in?

I do figurative art. This is a form of modern art that holds strong orientations to the real world and particularly to the human figure, for instance; paintings and sculptures. It is based on real-world objects, people, or scenes. I love being inspired by African bodies. This art is a bit new in Rwanda. 

As an artist, what is your mission as you paint, which message do you want to convey to your audience?

My mission is to use art to engage people on the journey of healing.  We have been having wars, I believe that art can help us generate our own happiness and unite each other. Art is therapy. I also tend to depict the African culture combined with the modern ways of living.

What challenges do you usually encounter and how are you willing to solve them?

Very few people can understand my art because I mix different feelings and experiences to find a solution. To people who just glance at a picture and don’t mind to interpret it, chances are, they miss out on the message behind it.

Many Rwandans have not really known the value of art, some people don’t see a reason as to why they should their money on a painting. However, I am now focusing on the young generation to instill the value and preach the gospel of art. 

How much do your art pieces cost?

The prices range from Rwf50,000 to about Rwf500,000 per piece. Although the market in Rwanda is still low.

What have you gained from this profession?

I have been able to connect and meet new people that I couldn’t have met if I was in some other profession, I have also traveled, learned more as I practice, took part in art exhibitions both locally and internationally.

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