Two Brothers, same passion; art

Of all the courses people take in their lives, an artist’s way probably requires the most guts; one needs to have their heart in the right place and a steel backbone too for the general public may not understand the uncertainty of your dreams. Innocent Nkurunziza and his younger brother Emmanuel Nkuranga have that and more, they have a passion and love for art.
Brothers Emmanuel Nkuranga (left) and  Innocent Nkurunziza (right) The New Times/ Courtesy photo
Brothers Emmanuel Nkuranga (left) and Innocent Nkurunziza (right) The New Times/ Courtesy photo

Of all the courses people take in their lives, an artist’s way probably requires the most guts; one needs to have their heart in the right place and a steel backbone too for the general public may not understand the uncertainty of your dreams. Innocent Nkurunziza and his younger brother Emmanuel Nkuranga have that and more, they have a passion and love for art.

The brothers are the founders of what is probably the biggest art gallery in the country, Inema Art Centre in Kayciru, a few metres from Umubano Hotel. The centre, put up in 2012, is not only a home to the brothers but it provides space for artists, both local and international. At the centre, paintings hang on the wall and sculptures and abstract expressions line up from the gate.

In the poem ‘The road less travelled’ by Robert Frost the poet explains his dilemma at the crossroads of two paths; one well worn and another rarely taken. The brothers who seem to be wholly consumed by art chose to stay away from the safe path promised by university degrees and instead took a more risky route.

Of the two, Nkurunziza, the older one, is quieter, taller and seems to weigh every word he says. His dreadlocks fall over his face at times covering his eyes. “The first piece of art I ever created was a drawing of my mother, my brother and I heading to school on a rainy day under our umbrellas. After high school I realised I had a passion for art that I had to execute. I talked to my father and reasoned with him that rather than studying finance in university, I would rather be an artist. From 2007, I began doing it professionally fulltime,” the self taught artist explains his debut in art. 

When he became an artist he promised his old man that though he was not taking a ‘real’ career, he would be independent. “I told him though I wouldn’t end up as a doctor or engineer, I would never bother him in my entire life. I promised to get as far as I could,” he says. 

“The dynamic rhythm of nature, people, colours and texture within my world are the basis from which my art is derived. Each day I live my dream of working as a visual artist and it is my desire that viewers will find their own inspiration within my dream,” he says in a hushed tone.

Nkuranga is more like his brother, only that he moves his hands a lot when he speaks, has broader shoulders and a shiny piece of jewelry on his left ear. Unlike his elder brother, he speaks fast but his words are still calculated.  He followed his brother’s footsteps though after high school he first joined Kigali Institute of Education to pursue Information Technology.

“I studied IT and was good at it; I even had a job that helped me pay my tuition. But in the course of my schooling, I used to practice art during my free time and the pieces I created caught most people’s eyes more than the IT skills I had. The first pieces I did were cultural art. Some of t the first pieces I did were exhibited in Sweden,” it was then that he decided to be an artist.

Through art they have been able to act as Rwandan ambassadors, portraying various beautiful aspects of the country through their creations.  “There were no Rwandan artists then with positive energy trying to appreciate and show beautiful things about the country through art,” Nkuranga says.

It was not easy but Nkuranga says that they had always had a motto ‘dare to dream’ since they were young. “At first, some people didn’t understand my life’s course. But over time, our work started having an impact,” he adds.

So far art has taken them across the world to destinations like New York, Portland, Oregon, Boston, Charlottesville, Virginia, Scotland, Canada, Germany, Denmark, and Holland amongst other places. They have also had a chance to teach and encourage upcoming artists.

“Though we are self taught, we have had a chance to facilitate and lecture art students all over the world. We want to show them it is possible,” Nkurunziza chips in.

Through their art centre they have been selfless and have reached out to the rest of the society and put up programmes for women and children. Nkurunziza put up a programme Nziza Artwork which sought to work with crafts women who create and have a chance to market their creations.

Nkuranga also began a programme, Art with a mission, which works with children, most of them orphans, offering them a chance to discover and use their artistic talent. The programme mentors them and shows them how they can use art as a survival skill.

“The main aim of these programmes has been to tap the untapped potential of art in the country. It is to keep the community actively involved in art and provide exposure to creative people,” Nkuranga says using his hands to drive the point home.

Nkuranga sees this as continuing their late mothers’ work. “She was a church minister and loved people a lot, her life challenged us to do something to add to what she did.  As she said, you need to have a purpose in life; it is about sharing and trying to transform the social aspects by developing human capital.”

One would think that their art centre rarely has guests but in the course of the interview, guests kept walking in.

During their free time, they work out in the gym or go to church. “At times artists are associated with drugs or alcohol, I am in no position to judge anyone, that’s how they derive their happiness but for me that’s not how I derive inspiration or strength. Meditation and yoga do that for me,” Nkurunziza says.

When you ask the brothers who they look up to, they have a hard time answering that, they like several artists including El Anatsui, and Jean Michel Basquiat but do not necessarily want to walk their paths.

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