An Art Studio Grows in Rwanda


Collin SekajugoTwo years ago, visual artist Collin Sekajugo established an arts center where there weren’t any before: Kigali, Rwanda. The Ivuka Arts Center (ivuka means “rebirth”) provides studio space and workshops, and helps artists “make a living from their art,” Sekajugo tells Peace Review—no easy feat in a country that doesn’t have any art supplies shops or galleries. “We mostly exhibit our art in public buildings, in hotels or in coffee shops—in places where foreigners may go,” Sekajugo says.

Perhaps most surprising is that 15 years after the genocide, Ivuka’s artists tend to avoid the subject. Here’s Sekajugo’s explanation:

Some of our artists address genocide in some works. Most of them don’t though. Some of our artists are genocide survivors, you see. Developing art about the genocide is very hard for them. It’s difficult for viewers too. It elicits bad feelings, feelings of pain, grief, or guilt. Who were the culprits? Or the victims? It creates division. Rather than representing genocide, the artists here would rather paint about reconciliation.

I suppose, if you wanted to, you could read genocide themes into their works. For instance, you could read genocide into this painting of people fleeing. Or you could relate the red color in this abstract painting to blood. Painting directly about genocide is delicate, however. It discourages people from coming to terms with the genocide, from reconciling. People here are very sensitive to these issues and emotions are very raw, especially during commemoration time.

I have a lot of ideas about the genocide that I’d like to put on canvas, but then I think of the repercussions, of how people are going to view it, of how it’s going to affect them. Some people might respond well to it, but others might become emotional, bitter, or angry. Genocide is still a very sensitive subject here, perhaps too sensitive.

The Peace Review interview is not available online, but if you’re at all interested in Rwanda, go out and buy the whole issue (July-September 2009)—it’s packed with essays and reports from that country, and Sekajugo’s interview is just one in a series of chats with artists working on amazing, inspiring projects in post-genocide Rwanda.

akachukwu chukwuemeka
11/13/2010 5:56:35 AM

The issue of Rwandan genocide is a reality the artists in that country should not avoid. It may be painful but there should be a subtle way of presenting it. The Nigerian art scene has not captured the issues of Nigerian-Biafran war because everybody avoids the topic in detail. The result is that we end up avoiding political themes in our works. We just paint to sell and make money for upkeep. Perhaps, it might look too early for the artists in Rwanda to start refreshing the peoples memories on the effects of the genocide but, gradually,they can be introducing the theme to keep both politicians and the people in check. like Rushdie will say, 'to prevent Rwandans from falling asleep again'. I am a painter from Nigeria and i will like to work with Rwandan artists on Gender issues in their society giving the background of the genocide.

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