ARTS : Ivuka Arts and the Rwandan Renaissance

Not far off the main road in Kacyiru leading from Laico Umubano Hotel to the Embassies, Ivuka Arts Studio revitalizes hearts and awakens minds of community members to culture, arts, and education.
Jean Bosco Bakunzi has grown to become one of Rwanda’s talented painters. (All photos / Amir Demeke)
Jean Bosco Bakunzi has grown to become one of Rwanda’s talented painters. (All photos / Amir Demeke)

Not far off the main road in Kacyiru leading from Laico Umubano Hotel to the Embassies, Ivuka Arts Studio revitalizes hearts and awakens minds of community members to culture, arts, and education.

 Through the media of painting, photography, traditional cultural performance, and most recently, music, the multi-talented collective have developed the flagship arts house of Kigali.  Artists and art lovers from all over East Africa and the world are coming to know Rwanda through an artistic renaissance in which Ivuka is at the core. 

A walk on the road toward the Ivuka Arts studio in the afternoon typically includes the sounds of children coming to greet, the sight of two or three of the ten artists painting a mural for the youth near the main entrance, and the welcoming voice of drums and youth chanting in unison about the beauty of Rwanda Nziza. 

Ivuka is heavily entrenched within Kigali’s Kacyiru sector, and one testament to that community engagement is the presence of a youth cultural performance troupe, RwaMakondera (“Rwandan Horns”). 

RwaMakondera was conceptualized by Ivuka Arts founder, Collin Sekajugo in 2007 and formalized when professional dancer and instructor, Amin Muhire, joined the Ivuka Arts collective in 2008. 

Over the course of two years, youth in Kacyiru have studied the cultural tradition that brought esteem to Rwanda in earlier years.  Such tradition has been overshadowed by contemporary history and a period of confusion. 

The drums beckon the community to move forward to a renewed Rwanda in which unity and love permeate the airwaves.  In particular, the youth at the studio are trained to present in Rwanda and abroad the “Intore” dance and the distinctly Rwandan imagery that evokes a pride and ownership in Rwanda that is apparent within most Rwandans in the country.

If one searches beneath the surface in Kigali, one can unearth a new gem more resilient than diamonds and more brilliant than gold.  It is the coltan of culture and that natural resource is Ivuka Arts. 

A student of artistic expression can have a field day in the Ivuka Arts Studio with paintings that range from realism, expressionism, cubism, regionalism, and mixed-media, to abstract expressionism, neo-expressionism, surrealism, dynamism, and modern African design.  The range reflects the varied artistic views of the many artists in the collective.

Artist Spotlights

Jean Bosco Bakunzi, the Kigali-born artist, seeks through much of his work to reflect the every-day experience of typical abantu Rwanda (“Rwanda people”).  His works, like “Dutahe“, take one into the Isoko or down the small road that many tourists do not see.  He plays with dimensions to make a painting that is pleasing to see and to touch.  

Prospering and receiving international attention as an Ivuka Artist has enabled Bakunzi to establish Uburanga Art Studio in Kimihurura in effort to make art vibrant throughout Kigali communities.

Karekezi Richard Safari, has developed an equally unique, definitely Rwandan style, which blends charcoal and paint to create geometric figures that present an almost comic-like depiction of Rwandan people and places. 

His modern Africa, abstract expressionist, and surrealist painter is reaching international acclaim and recently brought this style to Lebanon as a Rwandan representative in the Jeux de la Francophonie, Beirut. 

The artist plays with perspective and presents imagery that relate to an intergenerational audience.  In the ongoing Ivuka Arts Movement, Karekezi is another artist who has grown wings to soar.  The latest fruit born from the Ivuka tree is Intego Arts Studio.

Brothers, Innocent Nkurunziza and Emmanuael Nkurunga, continue the family artistic tradition began by their uncle, the internationally-acclaimed, Sanaa.  Nkurunziza, a fan of mixed media work, is known for a variety of styles that include the use of bark and paper on canvas with abstract and surrealist painting.

Nkurunga’s newest work blend his characteristic use of patterns and dimension with regionalism that reminds of rural East African life.

Ivuka Arts founder, Collin Sekajugo, has built an artistic empire from very humble beginnings.  The artist and social entrepreneur has art that may be found throughout Kigali’s business district in venues like Heaven Restaurant, Kigali International Airport, and Access Bank within the Union Trade Center (UTC). 

His works carry messages promoting cultural pride and East African unity to the astute African.  These messages have carried him from Kampala, Nairobi, Cape Town, and Kigali, to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other places, even offering him an opportunity to speak at the United Nations about the need for peace and reconciliation in Rwanda and other nations previously plagued by social division.

Ivuka Arts re-presents the flames of hope, change, and progress that burn brightly within today’s Rwanda.  The flames are purifying the place, giving way for the rebirth of the nation that rises like a phoenix from the ashes of the soon distant past. 

The flames are held tightly within the hands, which in the case of talented artists are as effective as the tongue of the politician and the poet.  This is Ivuka, making a loud sound in Rwanda through the stroke of a brush and the beat of the drum.  Murakaza neza. 

amirdemeke@gmail.com

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