In March last year, 25-year-old visual artist Jean de Dieu Uwikunda, went through a troublesome period after long stressful days painting artworks resulted into falling unconscious and spending 3 days in coma.
As a result of the ordeal, he lost vision in one eye but that difficult period in his life did not deter his determination and passion for visual art.
He spoke to Sunday Magazine’s Eddie Nsabimana why he persisted on despite the challenges he was going through and his future plans for his career.
It seems your eyes are not in good condition, what happened?
I lost vision in one eye after a period when I used some toxic paints without protective gear. I found myself unconscious and spent three days in a coma. I could since not see anything at all after I was discharged from the hospital and, although I got medical treatment, my optical complications couldn’t successfully get healed.
Uwikunda paints a portrait before he got visual complications. / Courtesy
We went to many hospitals and the Ministry of Health tried to help me in some advanced medical operations to see if I can get treatment but nothing changed.
I thought everything was over for me. I even lost hope of doing anything but now I am trying to do what I love no matter what troubles my eyes have endured.
Why do you keep doing visual arts?
I simply love it. This is something I have been doing since 2015 and it has since become my passion and irreplaceable adventure. There might be a secret behind it which I don’t know. Time will tell! [Laughs]
How long does it take you to complete a painting?
Before enduring all these visual troubles, I would spend just one or two days on a painting, but now it can even take a week or ten days working on one single portrait.
King James is one of the artistes Uwikunda made a portrait for. / Courtesy
When I want to finish my artwork as soon as possible, I do the job at night where I can take more time painting than during the day, just because I feel it is less risky for my eye to do the job because it does not pain like it does during the day.
How much do you charge for a portrait?
Actually, sometimes I do visual arts not to sell but either for fun or as presents to my friends. But when it comes to business, I charge between Rwf 50 000 and Rwf 100 000.
How have visual arts helped you?
I earn a living from the money I get from the paintings I do for people. So it’s a talent I never take for granted and I believe more is yet to come since I am planning to do it as a full-time job.
Which celebrities have you made portraits for?
Not so many. But I did one for King James and another which I painted for Social Mula. It was a gift that I wanted to give him during his album launch recently.
I am also the one who designed the logo of the University of Lay Adventists of Kigali (UNILAK).
What are the major challenges for a visual painter?
The challenges are just material. If I get the materials I need, then visual arts would be my dream career because I love it and I have dedicated all my life to it.