Award-winning nature artist breathes life into dead objects

When Kigali-based sculptor, Albert Munyemana, was starting out as an artist, most of his colleagues and peers were complaining about lack of materials or expensive canvas and paint.
Munyemana receives the Made-in-Rwanda 2016 expo Best Handicraft Exhibitor Award from Stephen Ruzibiza, the PSF chief executive.  ( All photos by Nadege Imbabazi.)
Munyemana receives the Made-in-Rwanda 2016 expo Best Handicraft Exhibitor Award from Stephen Ruzibiza, the PSF chief executive. ( All photos by Nadege Imbabazi.)

When Kigali-based sculptor, Albert Munyemana, was starting out as an artist, most of his colleagues and peers were complaining about lack of materials or expensive canvas and paint.

Munyemana says he decided to try his hand at wood carving to show colleagues that there were a lot of cheap or free materials they could use in their trade.

Thinking outside the proverbial box paid off eventually and the Art Mix Media chief won the Best Handicraft Exhibitor Award at the Made in Rwanda expo at Gikondo showground last week.

“I wanted to show peers that no one should complain about lack of raw materials when we have abundant unused products in our environment,” explains the 58-year-old.

The artist, who exhibited animal carvings and beautiful carpets made out of kitenge fabric cuttings and other waste materials, said he experiments with all kinds of materials from nature.

Most of the pieces depict the beauty of nature by ‘breathing’ life into formerly dead materials.

He was inspired by the experience of being born into a family of artists who supported and helped him improve his skills.

“I want to show Rwandans that you can create a job by exploiting readily available materials. This way, you can give ‘another life’ by creating a new item out of the formally useless material,” he explains. He advises educated Rwandans to use their knowledge to improve communities instead of ‘crying’ all the time about lack of jobs.

Munyemana says the arts, like any other sector, create jobs for youth and can drive innovation in the industrial sector. That’s why we need more support because we promote government programmes that are geared at job-creation, as well as deepening entrepreneurship, self-reliance, and contribute to revenue generation.

Award is reward for resilience

“I am happy about the recognition. Previously, people didn’t value artists and other vocational type of work. Therefore, this award recognises our contribution to national development. It encourages us to be more creative and to design pieces that tell the Rwanda story in a unique way.”

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Munyemana at the expo.

Surviving in a ‘dry’ sector

Munyemana says it takes determination and innovation to survive in the handicraft sector or be on top of the game.

“I feel good when I give a new image to something that had been dumped as useless,” he says.

Now that my ‘special’ talent has been recognised at national level, I will do all possible to create more unique and nature-friendly artifacts as part of efforts to support government push for green growth, he adds.

“Rwandans should know that any talent can be ‘polished’ and improved. In addition, determination and hard work always bear fruit. Importantly, let’s avoid excuses of lack of resources or capital as barriers to entrepreneurship,” Munyemana adds.

What others say about Munyemana

Chantal Uwamwiza, an artist, says the carver promotes nature through his “amazingly unique” pieces. His works contribute to nature conservation and benefits him and the country.

Elijah King, an art lover, says Munyemana’s carpets are creative and unique. He says the Made-in-Rwanda initiative has showed people that “there are many good and quality products made locally”.

About Made-in-Rwanda initiative

The Made-in-Rwanda initiative aims at encouraging Rwandans to consume locally-made products. It also seeks to give producers and service providers a platform to network and learn with a view of improving production processes and quality to make locally-made goods more competitive. It targets only Rwandan-based firms from all sectors of the economy.

Arts bring in forex revenue, promote culture

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Ishimwe poses with one of the paintings at the expo. 

Meanwhile, Samuel Daddy Ishimwe, a painter at Iwacu Wellness Arts Studio, says fine art is key contributor to the economy “because most tourists buy our paintings which earn the country foreign exchange and also supports painters”. He adds that the arts promote Rwandan culture and values. “Culture is central to any community and so as fine artists we have to promote our Rwandan culture through art and tell the African and Rwandan stories,” he says.

Advice

Ishimwe advises Rwandans, especially the youth, not to wait for government jobs but to move out and ‘create things’ and stop complaining about lack of jobs. He encourages Rwandans to buy home-made products to support local talent and innovation.

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