While Rwanda certainly offers a lot in terms of wildlife and magnificent nature, it is also one of the best places in East Africa to explore the authentic local art scene. Most of art galleries are located in Kigali, the capital, but in fact, the whole country is so small you can easily get around in a matter of hours.
The National Art Gallery in Nyanza, around 80 kilometers south of Kigali, is so far the only government-run art museum in the country that houses a collection of modern sculptures and paintings by artists from all over Africa. Other galleries around Rwanda are founded by private organizations and initiatives.
Unfortunately, with globalization the tourist markets of Africa started filling up with cheap Chinese-manufactured replicas of traditional African crafts, which not only took away jobs from the artists, but also undermined the value of African art in the global market. Luckily, in the Land of Thousand Hills, as Rwanda is known in the region, the art scene is growing and developing. In the past decade, Rwandan artists not only managed to organize themselves into creative communities, but also gathered enough international acknowledgment and investment to be able to use their craftsmanship and artwork in the professional capacity.
Some of the art communities even grew into brands, such as Inzuki Designs, founded in 2010 by Teta Isibo to produce and distribute exclusive Rwandan jewelry around the world. Recently, large foreign brand Kate Spade started a community project in Masoro town in Rwanda, in order to provide local women with professional training, stable income and opportunity to successfully sell their handwork under the brand’s name.
Inema Art Center
Inema Art Center (Kacyiru, Kigali, Rwanda) in Kigali was opened in 2012 and not only hosts an exhibition of sculptures, paintings and mixed-media artwork created by their artists in residence, but also employs local women and men who create jewelry, clothing items, bags and other handicrafts, provides education in arts for the children from local orphanages, and trains students to become professional artists and artisans.
Ivuka Arts (KG565 Street, Kacyiru, Kigali, Rwanda) started in 2007 and now runs a lot of community projects and musical events, as well as sells artwork exhibits produced by local artists. Interestingly enough, Rwandan artists rarely get a chance to have a formal education before they start their artistic career, but their work incorporates both traditional features of East African art, involving beads, weaving techniques and brave use of bright colors, and non-canonical use of space and shapes, typical for modernist art.
Uburanga Arts Studio
Uburanga Arts Studio (behind Lemigo Hotel, 48 KG 6th Av) use their creative approach to recycled materials to turn the entire exhibition space into an ecological work of art.
Yego Arts Gallery
Yego Arts Gallery (located opposite MTN Center in Nyarutarama 250) was founded in 2012 by Tony Cyizanye to bring together visual artists from all over Africa and provide them with creative space to work and distribute their artwork.
Claudine is a 23-year-old local artist who used to have her own exhibition room at Yego Arts before moving to work for another project. As many other artists, with Yego Arts she got an opportunity to make her jewelry and sewing handwork visible to local and foreign designers.
"I first started doing my artwork at a women’s cooperative after secondary school," Claudine explained. "In Rwanda, we do not really have a professional art school or anything of the kind. But my uncle is a sculptor and artist, so I might have learned something from him, too." The craft of producing traditional jewelry is still passed on from older artists to younger members of the cooperative. Because of her exceptional talent, Claudine was noticed by Deborah Knight, an American development worker who helped the girl to set up her first jewelry business at Yego Arts gallery.
For many people, Rwanda is still primarily associated with the genocide of 1994. There is no doubt that both the government and the people have made a significant effort to remember the lesson learned 20 years ago and improve their international image. As a mode of expression and way to alter the livelihoods of many people in the country, art has become an essential part of this peaceful transformation.