Discovering Rwanda’s pastel art master

Twenty three year old, Bosco Bakunzi is an undiscovered young Rwandan paint artist based at Ivuka Art Studio in Kacyiru.
Bosco Bakunzi
Bosco Bakunzi

Twenty three year old, Bosco Bakunzi is an undiscovered young Rwandan paint artist based at Ivuka Art Studio in Kacyiru.

Born and raised in Nyamirambo, Bakunzi at the age of eight discovered his talent in sketching. He slowly transformed from pencil sketches, abstract painting then to pastel painting. 

What makes the well-built, dark skinned artist a precious discovery is the fact that he is the only practicing painter in the pastel medium of art in Rwanda.

“I am self taught in pastel painting. My love for reading art books led me to a new form of artistic expression which has become part of my work,” Bakunzi said during an exclusive interview with The New Times.

Pastels are made of ground pigment mixed with chalk and gum or oil, and then shaped into drawing sticks.

Unlike paints, pastels are not mixed on a palette, but are created by overlaying and blending different colours on special textured, coloured papers made specifically for pastels.

The coloured backgrounds of these papers help create unity in a pastel painting, which is why parts of the paper are usually left exposed.

Pastel papers are available in a range of colours, from black and white, earth colors and to primary colors. Pastel boards too that are more textured than pastel paper can be used. These enable artists to apply colours more heavily.

Like a journalist without a pen, an artist without watercolors and brush for blending colours and brushing away excess dust, wouldn’t be able to produce a painting.

According to Bakunzi, Pastel painting is a surprisingly difficult medium of art because an artist has to keep their hands and pastels clean to avoid smudging their work.

“Pastels involve layering colours to get texture and form as you paint. It’s important to keep skintones clean when layering. This is what makes pastels difficult,” he said.

By examining Bakunzi’s finished pieces, one can truly see real talent. Most of his pieces are real life expressions depicting Rwanda’s history or current cultural lifestyles.

The young artist surely appreciates what he does and this has come with several benefits.

“Painting is a way of decently earning a living but also, I personally find it very relaxing. It’s just like a sport,” he expressed.

Also a survivour of The 1994 Genocide against Tutsi’s, Bakunzi still finds art as a major form of healing.

“Art for me is a true creative expression where I lose all sense of time and place. Through art I have been able to heal my mind from past traumas of the war,” he narrated.

As a way of reaching out to the community, on Saturday afternoons, the young artist took it upon himself to teach children how to paint at Gisimba orphanage in Nyamirambo.

Bakunzi says the reason he teaches children painting is because he believes that art has the power to heal troubled minds. In this way children with problems can release and divert their pain and loss in a productive way.

However, with all the success streaming in, challenges in his career are inevitable. For Bakunzi acquiring painting materials in Rwanda is a problem.

“Unison pastels are among the most expensive. Definitely, they can’t be found in Rwanda. Therefore, I have to send for them from Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and other countries. On the other hand, once you’ve tried them out, its money well spent,” he said.

Other than this, Bakunzi said that most people in Rwanda are ignorant about this art medium. This he said, has made him miss out on many art competitions because the judges also do not understand or know what pastels are.

He emphasised that pastels are as old as 500AD and art masters like Leonardo Da Vinci used pastels for painting.

The young artist is not limited. He does abstract painting and portrait illustrations besides pastel paintings. In this way, he earns some money as he waits for Rwandans to become familiar with the art of Pastels.

Bakunzi is inspired by abstract artists like Bill Ruterana, Collin Sekajugo, Amadou Tounkara and illustrators like Theogene Kabalisa.

Encouraging young artists, he urges them to be creative in order to avoid copying what other people have already done.

“Originality is lost when something is duplicated,” he explained, “Every artist has their own style that usually comes from their thoughts and cannot be copied. What they should instead do is read a lot of books on art so as to broaden their minds and learn new painting techniques which only enhances their style.”


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