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Great paintings by Rwandan artists who no longer create art

Cesar Abimana Ziragaba in front of his painting “Catastrophe”, oil paint on wood, 122 x 122 cm, painted in 2000 and enquired by the National Art Gallery of Rwanda in 2006. Painting now forms permanent collection of the Rwanda Art Museum. Photos: Ilija Gubic.

Art pieces from the National Art Gallery of Rwanda, that was opened in 2006 in Rwesero, Nyanza, were moved to Kigali in 2018 in the process to establish the Rwanda Art Museum.

What used to be a residence of two former presidents of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyaimana and Pasteur Bzimungu, now hosts Rwanda Art Museum a collection of 112 paintings and sculptures. This is without any structural or architectural changes to the interior of the building.

 

The ground floor of the Rwanda Art Museum hosts the exhibition “Art for Peace” with the majority of the art pieces done by Epa Binamungu.

 

 

Ink on paper by Floride Mukabageni, quick drawing made during an interview on December 27, 2019. 

What caught my attention while visiting the exhibition was the painting with vivid colours, smiling faces engaged in a dance ritual, green hills, rivers and a red painted map of the African continent.

Noticing that the artist titled his work “Catastrophe” those vivid colours and dynamics of painted figures started telling a different story.

Painting “Forgiveness” by Floride Mukabageni, oil paint on canvas, 55 x 36 cm, painted in 2006 and enquired by the National Art Gallery of Rwanda in the same year is in the permanent collection of the Rwanda Art Museum and exhibited as part of the exhibition “Art for peace”. 

The painting also depicts erupted volcano, skeleton and a knife, polluted water and soil and frightened animals hidden in the forest.

Given that the painting was made two decades ago, it strongly presented a message of human suffering. It encouraged me to locate this artist to understand his views on the message he tried to convey.

Cesar Abimana Ziragaba stopped painting almost two decades ago, got a degree in economics and is working as a consultant in Huye.

During our meeting he informed me that his shift from art to research on the economy was purely for economic reasons.

“It is hard to make a living being an artist and most of the artists in Rwanda have other professions. One of the reasons is lack of interest in contemporary art by the general public,” Ziragaba stated.

Ziragaba said that his generation of artists was not creating to please the audience but creating to keep the memory of the nation’s turbulent history. 

We visited Rwanda Art Museum together where he was proudly explaining his inspiration for the art piece.

In addition to painting, Zirigaba also drew and wrote a comic book about Rwanda’s history, culture and habits and gave original drawings to the Ethnographic Museum in Huye in 2000 hoping they would publish it.

Two decades later, Zirigaba still has high hopes that comic book he made will be published. 

While visiting Rwanda Art Musem earlier this year, I noticed another painting “Forgiveness” showing two figures, one standing and another one kneeling, with simplified geometrical elements and coordinated soft palet.

Painted by Floride Mukabageni in 2006, in addition to its artistic quality, this piece is especially important as being an art made by women.

The Museum’s collection has art by only three Rwandan women artists.

It took me weeks of research, numerous phone calls and a trip to Kampala, Uganda in order to find out more about Mukabageni.

Crista Uwase, a strong advocate of women’s role in art, collects data on women artists in Rwanda since 1962.

Uwase helped me get in touch with Mukabageni’s family in Rwanda who then referred me to the artist whom I met in Kampala last week.

In Kampala, Mukabageni told me about her studies at the Nyundo School of Art and Music that she completed and the influence that Professor Chiboko had on her art at an early stage.

It was in the first years of last decade when her art career was at the peek. She was part of the Plastic Arts at Kicukiro for two years and later her paintings and sculptures were exhibited in Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and lastly in Germany in 2012 where she was the only women among group of Rwandan artist exhibiting.

The last couple of years proved not to be easy for Mukabageni, who is solely raising her two sons.

It was an issue a decade ago and it still is today, where art collectors in Rwanda do not necessarily appreciate contemporary art aesthetics.

At the end of our conversation, she took my notebook and a pen and in a few seconds and with few lines, she sketched everyone sitting at the table.

I guess, to show me that she is still passionate about the art and signal that she would return to an art world.

For all of us living in Rwanda passionate about art, we are looking forward to 2020 to witness potentially great comebacks of artists, enjoy well established painters and sculptors and their exhibitions and support emerging young artists, with a message: do not give up on your talents.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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