While people around him deemed his uncle to be mentally ill and perhaps an outcast who deserved nothing but isolation, Tonny Cyizanye held different perception of the man.
Then only five, Cyizanye was passionate about drawing and his uncle was excellent at it. That is the glue that made them inseparable, despite negative public perceptions.
Several years after his uncle had died, the youthful Cyizanye found his passion for art growing—a skill that defines his life to date. For example, while in primary school, no teacher liked him for being a naughty boy. However when it to came art classes, they bowed because he always emerged the best. He later on became consecutive winner of the inter-secondary school drawing competition—something that earned him immense respect.
However, his life started facing a down turn after high school. Being an orphan, his poor guardians couldn’t afford university education; so practically he started a long and painful life of idleness and near destitution.
Tired of this, he came up with an idea—to find work in a gallery.
In his neigbourhood in Kacyiru, there was a gallery called Ivuka Arts where he walked in and convinced its management to recruit him. It was not long before management got impressed by his artistic knack. That was back in 2007.
Today, Cyizanye, 27, runs his own art and jewelry shop valued at about Rwf 1.8 million in Nyarutarama, a Kigali suburb. He also employs 11 members of staff.
Cyizanye notes that his career has benefited him immensely, “I have been able to enjoy the sense of freedom that comes with being self-employed, unlike before when I used to be tossed around by bosses,” he says.
His works have also been able to feature in international exhibitions on invitation several times, especially in the U.S and Europe. This, he says, has given him certification—the fact that his work is recognized even over seas.
Despite big success, he has not forgotten his humble beginning and recognizes that giving back to society is an obligation. That is why he chose to equip 10 young people with art skills and employ them.
Besides paying fees for three children from financially challenged families to attend secondary school, he has teamed up with workmates under a project called Abantu-Beza, to visit orphanages during school holidays. The visits are intended to equip the orphans with artistry skills.
That is not to suggest that it is all a smooth ride for Cyizanye. He says the industry isn’t a bed of Roses altogether. “A number of artists are involved in sabotage games against each other and this has affected the reputation and progress of the industry,” he laments.
He also adds that the country lacks adequate materials for art, so they are left with no option but to import them from neighbouring countries like Uganda and these come at a high financial cost.
Above all, he is disappointed that most Rwandans don’t appreciate art, the reason artists have to largely depend on foreigners for market. This means the market is very small as foreigners come and go.
“I am motivated by the fact that today whatever I lay my hands on experiences progress, unlike a couple of years ago when everything seemed caught in a frustrating maze,” Cyizanye remarks with a touch of joy.
About what makes him stand out in the industry, he notes: “I try to give every piece of mine an exceptional touch. This is why my works attract attention even internationally.”
His five-year plan is to establish a state-of-the-art gallery with inbuilt residences for artists to ensure convenience and good output.