Unearthing Bakunzi’s potential
“When I was younger, I was so adventurous, I used to build small mud houses and make toy cars from scrap metal wires. I was curious about everything and my mom said I was very stubborn; but my daddy said it was okay because my curiosity was a gift within me that needed to grow.”
“My daddy was a fashion and design teacher at a school in Gikondo and I think that’s where my talent comes from.”
Jean Bosco Bakunzi is a 24 year-old semi-abstract visual artist who uses acrylic on canvas.
Professionally, he works with Ivuka Art studio in Kacyiru, founded by Collin Sekajugo, has done two solo exhibitions, participated in 2009 Biennale EASTAFAD, an outstanding art entity that recognizes East African painters and he also has a passion to teach children creative art and crafts in different mediums.
Under the ‘Imena Project’ meaning, ‘A new beginning’, he works with children at Gisimba Memorial Centre (GMC) empowering them to discover, develop and use their talent to make money.
The process of unearthing his talent was a very long one that evolved through curiosity, adventure, pain, trauma, respect and love for others.
Born in Nyamirambo on October 30th 1985, Bakunzi was the 2nd child raised in a family of six children. His loving mom and dad were their umbrella of protection, love and care. But this all changed in 1994.
“It was one week after the genocide had started. I was eight years old, in P.3 when we came back from hiding with, my brothers and sisters and found when our parents had just been killed,” said Bakunzi.
During the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi, many children were orphaned and left unattended to. Bakunzi and his siblings were no exception.
“It was hard life to lose both parents, but we were lucky we had a good maid who stayed with us for two weeks and cooked for us food,” he said.
These times were filled with uncertainty and being the oldest boy, Bakunzi walked alone to Gisimba Memorial Centre to ask Grandpa Gisimba if he could bring his siblings along. Grandpa Gisimba was a good friend of his father who lived about 300metres away from their home. Over the next two days, Bakunzi walked his siblings, one at a time to find refuge at GMC where about 600 people were sheltered.
“No one stopped us, it was God who protected us,” he narrates, adding that, “…there were a lot of children and I used to talk to them and tell stories to forget what was happening outside.”
Bakunzi recalls times when they were close to annihilation, but were saved. At one point everyone in GMC was transferred to St. Michelle.
“I thought that was the end of the story and then the ‘Inkotanyi’ came!” said the young painter.
That was the end of the genocide.
Bakunzi moved back to GMC and stayed there for two years. In 1996 he revisited his artistic skills when a certain French woman came,worked with children drawing and making sketches.
“She paid me Rwf100 everyday and this made me and other kids draw. I knew I had a special talent so I drew many sketches which she framed. But one day she took all the paintings and left,” Bakunzi recalls.
At 11 years old, his uncles and aunties came and adopted his brothers and sisters. Together with his two sisters, they moved back to their home and started over again.
Throughout his teenage years, he lived in a household of 12 children including cousins and one aunt for a guardian.
“It was hard life growing up as a teenager because we did not have enough money to get what we needed; through all this I learnt to appreciate life, live with people, be patient and respect other people’s lifestyles,” Bakunzi said.
“I have lived both the good life with my parents and the bad life without them and I have learnt to live both ways,” he added.
Bakunzi is confident in the fact that his experience has built his character and taught him to help other people. He finds art a major form of healing.
“Art is something that makes me forget the past: I lose all sense of time and place when I paint, art makes me feel good and makes me get money; art is my lifestyle.”
“Today, I have learnt to be creative in my life. I know that I can use my creativity to make my life and that of others better,” he said.
Bakunzi has a dream of becoming an international artist and wants to share his talent to inspire younger children. He is already on this journey with the children of GMC. He has been working with them for over a year and a half now teaching them to design card, paint and make necklaces.
This young visual artist believes that Rwanda needs people who are creative; specifically, people and parents who teach their children to love and respect their country and its culture.
“Like president Kagame says, it’s our hands that will make our country a better place; this is why me and other artists at Ivuka Arts, are working very hard to showcase Rwanda’s art to the rest of the world. It’s time for our country to compete in the art scene as we take Rwandan art to the next level,” he says.
Bakunzi recently showcased his paintings at Kigali International Airport and this opportunity under ISOKO, an association started by Epa Binamungu has given him more exposure.