“I didn’t move here just because I wanted people to come to me. I moved here because I wanted space where I could be free, where I could sit and work without being limited on what to do,” Timothy Wandulu begins to explain his reasons for going solo as a visual artist.
“Because when you go to galleries they’ll tell you; do not use this color, do not do this, people want this, paint this, yet it’s not what is on your mind.”
Wandulu honed his craft at Inema Arts Center in Kacyiru, where some of his installation and collectible art pieces can still be seen.
At inema, he nurtured a reputation for recyclable art, creating beautiful art out of scrap, waste and litter.
Early this year, in February, the artist parted ways with Inema Art Center to start his own – Concept Arts Studio just a few blocks down street from Inema.
“Concept is not a space or the artworks on display … it’s the ideas that I put into existence. It’s not the house or artworks but rather the ideas housed within that space,” he explains.
At this new address, where he also resides, one is welcomed by a colorful painting of a smiley kid’s face on the corrugated iron gate. Standing at the gate looking in, the other striking feature is the dozen umbrellas in bright rainbow colors hoisted up on the elevated patio roof.
The artist reveals that these two features “spark off conversations”; for instance some think it is a dental hospital because of the smiling baby face on the gate.
On the patio are a few art pieces, some guest sitting in the form of a low sofa and a few seats improvised out of found wood and other objects like plastic jerry cans.
Wandulu calls it eco-friendly art and indeed it’s a defining feature of his pieces.
In the main exhibition space there is a guitar he made out of found wood, and a chair made from a bicycle seat with its cushioned carrier upturned as the backrest.
So apart from the wood and metal procured from wood and metal workshops, Wandulu’s workstation is also littered with discarded materials like scrap wood and metal, including motorcycle parts, plastic water bottles, wire, rags, fiber to paper; basically anything disposed of that he chances upon.
“Whenever I go along the street picking discarded materials, people conclude that I’m crazy. What they do not know is that I am collecting materials for my art works, from which I earn a living, but at the same time also contributing to conservation of the environment. Instead of throwing away or burning that plastic water bottle after drinking the water, you can create beauty out of it,” he explained.
“When my mind connects with the environment, it lights up my creativity. I’m trying to knock on people’s senses to have a sense of care for the environment.”
He explains that the idea for his own art space has been on his mind “for over ten years but I officially opened it this year in February”.
“Here I do whatever I feel like. If I feel like furniture I do it. If I feel like sculpting I do it, if I feel like painting … anything that comes to my mind because I’m not limited by who is going to be exhibiting.”
Because of the newfound freedom one notices some changes in his style. At Inema most of his eco and recyclable art pieces were in the form of installations, most of which were situated outdoors and not for sale.
At Concepts, he applies to same formula to make client-grade pieces that can actually be bought, like the burnt wood guitar and plastic jerry can chairs, not to mention the seat made from bicycle parts.
“This year has been kind of tricky with running the studio alone when you have to think of the creative side and then come to the business side and then the personal side,” he reveals. Still, he sums it up as a good year;
“Personally it’s been fine from the start and I believe great things are yet to come. I haven’t yet heard any really disturbing experiences although it’s been tricky to break through the market which I don’t think people coming to Rwanda have been fully introduced to.”
Wandulu contends that the country’s vast art scene has not been showcased enough to art lovers and foreigners coming to Rwanda. This is a dilemma that every artiste not attached to the mainstream art galleries is familiar with;
“When people come to Rwanda they don’t get to see all the art that is out there. They think that art is only here in Kigali. But when you move out there you find other artists that are working and that don’t really get the opportunity to be noticed because maybe the galleries don’t do enough and this is because when a gallery opens up it doesn’t really care about how they are making art. The only thing they will care about is how are we making money? They need the money in order to pay rent, in order to keep that posh life.”
So far he has relied largely on social media to get the word around and to showcase his works.
“For my studio I’m alone. The few friends that really understand have been helpful in spreading the word. If you have five of such people then you are good to go for the start. It’s all kinds of support, but moral support first of all. So the only support that I have is when I put out stuff on social media and see people share and talk about it with other people. And then there are friends that get to buy my art works. There is that other support of giving you courage …push on, get this, there’s something here you can apply for …”
His work ethic
Wandulu confesses that he has no specific time for work.
“I might wake up and the whole day I’m locking up the gate and I’m painting and not talking to anybody and switching off the phone and that’s it. Other days I’m not doing anything. I just want to sit around and let people come in and we talk.”
Past the exhibition space another door ushers one into the artist’s workshop. It could as well be called a pink room or ladies’ room because that is the way that it is themed;
On the walls one encounters portraits of smiling and beautiful women, messages designed to create awareness against breast cancer.
There is a framed section with a handful of women’s bracelets sewn to the wall and that gets virtually every visitor here talking;
“That room is the workshop of ideas, it is where I test-fly my ideas before bringing them out in the main exhibition space. In that room I conceptualize, I draft, sketch out and process everything by thinking of how people are going to perceive it.”
I go there, stitch up a bra, and listen to what people are saying. I listen to the vendors asking me why I’m buying those bras, that’s why I need this room to first think about why I’m exhibiting a particular thing and how people are likely to perceive it.”
Recently the artiste held his maiden solo exhibition after breaking out, titled Beauty Capsule, basically capturing different picturesque scenes of the City of Kigali.
“It was to appreciate what really makes Kigali beautiful and a city to think about. I portrayed street scenes, transportation, and day-to-day life.”