Twenty-four-year-old Flora Nyiramana Kimonyo is a student at Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences, currently offering a Bachelors Degree in Conflict and Peace Building. She is also a passionate painter.
She is one of the two female painters at Ivuka Arts Center in Kacyiru which was founded in 2007 by artist Colin Sekajugo.
“I loved painting ever since I was a child. When I was in primary school, I would paint on small papers but when I went to high school, I was forbidden from painting at home to focus on studies. My family is made up of artists but I’m the only painter in the family. Most of my family members are into music, designing and crafts. I resumed painting during my first year at university,” Nyiramana narrates.
Nyiramana attributes her growing talent to the support she recieves from fellow artists.
“When I went to Ivuka Arts, I was helped by my colleagues. Given the fact that I had never studied art like drawing and painting all my school life, I have learnt a lot about painting now. I currently have my paintings in studios and different places like Uwinka Visitor Centre and Gisakura at Nyungwe National Park,” Nyiramana discloses.
But Nyiramana faces different challenges.
“The Rwandan society has not fully embraced art, especially painting, and when you take on painting as a woman you are not taken seriously. But my main challenge is still trying to balance my studies with painting. There are some painting exhibitions that I miss because I’m at school. I’m hoping to fully embrace my passion for painting next year because I will have completed school then,” she says.
She adds, “To me, art, especially painting, is magical. It’s the beauty of a creative mind. I love painting because it gives me the greatest opportunity to express my emotions although my focus based on my painting is people and environment. I advise women to join this industry.”
With the numerous painting exhibitions that are held in Kigali, the exhibitors have always been men.
An article published on the online version of Think Africa Press titled ‘Rwanda: The Land of Gender Equality?’ shows that with a female dominated parliament, women at all levels of government have equal literacy rates as men.
Epaphroditus Binamungu, an established painter and sculptor, says that women have the potential to become great painters.
“We can’t say that we don’t have Rwandan women painters because it’s not incorporated in the schools curricula. We have female students that graduate from Ecole d’Art de Nyundo with skills but they decide not to take on painting,” Binamungu explains.
Binamungu, who has been painting for the last 40 years, says that there are still a few women in the painting industry in Rwanda.
“When I get to talk to women who are skilled in art, they always tell me that they will start painting the next day but they never show up. At times I think it’s because some of them lack confidence in themselves, or simply believe they can’t make a career in painting,” says Binamungu.
The 59-year-old opened the first art gallery in Kigali called Inganzo Art Gallery in 2002.
“Painting requires determination, patience and time especially if you are just embracing the talent. You have to work really hard before you actually reap big. I would love to advise young people to embrace painting at a tender age. A lot of focus is needed and learners need guidance from established artists to build their own style and technique so that they can become unique and build their brand in painting,” Binamungu states.
In 1973, Binamungu held his first solo exhibition in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then he has participated in numerous exhibitions in Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania as well as in Europe and the United States of America. But several artists are trying to help address this issue through nurturing young artistes.
The Inema Art Centre introduced ‘Art with a Mission’ that works with orphans, offering them an opportunity to discover and use their artistic talent.
In an interview with Women Today, Emmanuel Nkuranga, Co-Founder of Inema Art Centre, says that young girls and boys are benefiting from this scheme.
“Art with a Mission was set up so that we can train the next generation of Rwandan creative artists from a tender age so that we can build their confidence in the art industry, especially in painting. The painting culture has not been inculcated in Rwanda and that’s why we don’t see women painters,” Nkuranga explains.
He adds, “Art with a Mission is nurturing both boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 17, helping them discover their artistic abilities. Their work is then sold at the AWAM Showroom at the Inema Arts Centre and the proceeds from the sales go to the orphans’ school fees.”
He says that women in Rwanda have been great in the crafts industry, for example, weaving baskets and designing clothes but they also need to start practicing painting and make it a business.
“There are eight girls and fifteen boys under ‘Art with a Mission’ and we believe these will be great painters in the future. We are also closely working with Girl Hub -Nyampinga to promote girls in the art industry,” Nkuranga notes.