Pacifique Niyonsenga spent much of his childhood living in poverty on the streets of Rwanda.Thanks to the generosity of a Canadian man named Bruno, Pacifique was able to get an education and find work as an artist. Now he helps other kids living on the streets by introducing them to the arts. Pacifique founded the Niyo Cultural Centre and Niyo Art Gallery to not only help impoverished children, but to bring more attention to art in Rwanda. Sharon Kantengwa had a chat with him.
I have been doing art since my childhood but it was a hobby back then. Now it’s a career and it’s helping me pay my bills, plus I also get to help my community.
What art do you most identify with?
Visual art, abstract art and painting.
What role does an artist play in society?
Art is education and therefore an artist’s role is to use his skill to educate people about everything they see happening around them.
What themes do you pursue?
I do not have a particular theme. I paint whatever I see around me as long as it sends a message to people’s mind.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I started an art gallery to help the vulnerable, and I have received countless positive responses from people from all walks of life. Their feedback is positive energy to me and it has kept me moving.
What do you dislike about your project?
I am still struggling with people’s lack of appreciation for art in the local market. The locals can afford to support artists but they still do not understand how important art is to them. The majority of our clients are foreigners which I don’t think should be the case.
What is your dream project?
My head is full of projects. I have a big heart for kids and therefore, we have so many projects that aim at supporting kids. I want to promote community artwork by involving young kids in doing art for conservation at the Niyo Arts Centre.
Professionally, what’s your goal?
To be useful to my country and contribute to its development through art. My goal is to be creative in my work and tell stories that concern everything around us.
Is there an artist you relate to?
Although I admire artists like Jackson Pollock and many others, I can’t say that they inspire me. My inspiration is derived from my past life experience and what I see around me.
In your experience, what’s the best thing about painting?
It is another form of media where it allows an artist to send messages to the public. It is also a supportive business because I’m able to help the vulnerable.
And the worst?
Nothing. Painting is a lot fun.
How much drawing do you have to go through to prepare for a painting?
When painting, I only need my canvas and paint. I draw if I want to, but it’s not really necessary. Whatever I have within my vicinity is what I use. Whether paint, fabric, recycled, material is enough for me to do my art work.
What do you think are the qualities that define an artist?
His/her ideas. Everyone has their own style but what is important is the idea and the message that they portray.
Do you consider painting murals more of a challenge than working on a canvas?
Murals are hard because they require so many materials and take a lot of time compared to a canvas.