Shane Muhimanyi is part of the cast for G25, the new youth-centred play by Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company. The 25-minute piece premieres today, April 12, at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Amphitheater, and it is dedicated to the 25th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
He left Rwanda with his family in 2000, aged about five, headed for Zimbabwe, and later London, where he has stayed ever since. Today, he has curved out a career as a professional performance artist based in London. He studied performance art at Central Saint Martin College of Art and Design in the UK.
“I came to help Hope Azeda (Mashirika’s creative director), in structuring the play. She and I have a different practice, –her main practice is acting, mine is more movement based. Together, I think that we have a perfect combination because she can act on the text of the play, and I can act on where the actors are on the stage,” Muhimanyi told The New Times during rehearsals for the play at the Mashirika premises in Kimironko last week.
The 27-year-old came specifically for the play. Muhimanyi recalls that he was only two years old at the time of the Genocide, in which he lost his mother. It is this loss at a tender age that would influence his decision to take up the performance arts, as a form of self-expression and as a conduit to vent his emotions.
“I don’t have much recollections of her. But I remember that in my formative years from when my mother was alive to being passed over to her friends in the DR Congo, I was treated with care. I was grateful to have people that actually showed me love and took care of me as a child, to the point where I was able to grow into a dysfunctional adult who later became functional because I had such a good foundation as a kid,” said Muhimanyi.
As a performance artist, his passions are studying body language and psychology
He explains the dysfunctional adult that he once was. “I was actually part of a gang in London called ‘Dark Kids Creeping’. At first we used to go to parties as cool kids, and then with time it progressed into dysfunctional mob behaviour such as stealing from shops, and most of them ended up either in jail or selling drugs.”
To save him from himself, in 2006, Muhimanyi’s father sent him and a cousin for holiday back home, in Rusizi District.
“When I came home that time, I did not speak Kinyarwanda. I learnt Kinyarwanda, was able to reconnect with my roots and figure out what my identity was, whereas if I had stayed in London in the gang, I probably would have been in jail, or selling drugs. I always knew I had a family but I just never knew what that family was. My grandmother, basically showered me with the type of love that I never got from my step mother or anyone in our family, and since then I’ve been coming to Rwanda mainly because of her. She is 96 now.”
Muhimanyi describes himself as “a son, brother, artist, among many other hats that I wear, depending on which period of my life I’m in”. Previously he was into athletics, until an injury saw his coach advise him to try out jazz dance as he recuperated.
“I was quite good at it, and then my teacher said maybe I should audition for ballet school, and I did.”
As a performance artist, his passions are studying body language, and psychology. “I’m interested in how people work. My interest in performance comes from a sincere place and being able to support honesty and sincerity rather than teaching people how to pretend. I enjoy the true aspect of performance because it allows me to bring out the best in people and to bring out the best in myself because when it’s really done properly, it has an essence of empathy –not sympathy but empathy.”
On a recent trip to Rwanda, he was introduced to Hope Azeda of Mashirika, who told him about the G25 project.
“I thought it was a brilliant idea. What better way to celebrate young people and life in general, than to give them a platform to tell their stories and be their best on stage? So I was on board immediately. For me it makes sense to focus on young people because majority of the population in this country is people below the age of 30. So it makes sense to shine a light on them, and give them voices if you want the message of ‘never again’ to sink in.
When I was young, one of the things that I searched for was my mother. The moment I got over the trauma, I became autonomous and wasn’t driven by that any longer. Now, I’m driven by something greater that lives in everyone, as well as in me. Whatever it is that is less than that in terms of art, I do not engage with.”