He was only three years old when the insidious Genocide against the Tutsi happened. Twenty one years later, he’s among the youth who are now using their talents to paint the theme of love.
Each morning of the week finds Isakari Umuhire, 24, heading to Ivuka Arts Center in Kacyiru suburb where he plies his trade: painting attractive pieces of art that he says represent Rwanda traditional pristine culture. This culture, he says, was briefly sullied by the events that happened 21 years ago, but now everyone should use their talent and passion to reclaim it.
“The merchants of death really shook our culture of loving and being compassionate to each other. But we do realize that we can use our talents to remind ourselves that they didn’t kill our true spirits of love and compassion. We have to reclaim that spirit and my art pieces are part of that self discovery,” he says.
He spoke while putting final touches on an acrylic painting on a giant canvas. What is clearly discernible about his collections is that they have one thing in common; they are realism pieces that deeply penetrate the soul of culture.
“In our traditional culture each and every member of the society had a role to play. But even as each of us played these different roles, there was that part of communal living that brought each member of society as a part of the whole. Each member felt attached to his or her community and our mores abhorred some negative traits like individualism. Art can be used to remind ourselves of such a beautiful culture.”
Umuhire says that his journey to art was not something that he planned from his childhood, but he found himself drawn into it as he got older.
A former student at Kinunga Primary School, he says that he was later to head to Uganda for his college education where he majored in Industrial Art and Design at St. Lawrence University near Kampala. But despite graduating with honors, he says that when he came back, he decided to take painting as his métier because of the deep passion he had for it.
“I felt that I could do greater things in life as an artist more than anything else. This was a talent that I was endowed with and it’s something I enjoy doing every day. Art has been imprinted in my DNA and when something boils in your blood there’s no way you can run away from it,” he adds.
He says when he was in high school, he used to go and hang around artists who were emerging here in Kigali, and that he got his apprenticeship from them. “When I finished high school, that’s when I decided my future belonged to painting. I started doing it with a lot of passion and dedication,” he says.
But what about his parents, did they take kindly his foray into art, considering that many parents require their kids to take up the so called “profitable” courses they hope will make their children become “respectable” members of the society.
“I got a lot of support from my parents. Never for a single day did they dissuade me from following my dreams of being an artist. And never did they pressurize me to follow a different path. They were very supportive.
Going back to his paintings is quite eye opening. For a person who never attended any art school, you get mesmerized by how he comes to breathe life into his paintings and how he manages to vividly capture Rwandan culture that, due to his relatively young age, he was never part of.
“Culture is dynamic. It’s not something you’re taught to know its essence but something you experience every day as you live in your society. My paintings try to portray the positive side of our beautiful culture, of living together and doing things together as people who live with each other and should, therefore, love one another.
Umuhire says that unity is one vital ingredient that should be practiced at all stages if society wants to survive and he thanks the government for its effort in ensuring the country remains united now more than never.
“As a country, we are fully aware how disunity can give birth to unbridled chaos, and as those who survived that dark period, it’s incumbent upon us to spread the message of love. Using art to pass this message gives me strength. I normally feel I’ve played my part in building our nation.”
He adds that the government has now made it possible for the youth of this country to use their talents in making a better life for themselves and, therefore, the youth should repay the government’s efforts by engaging in productive activities.