There are no art schools in Rwanda, no hot galleries, no cozy art-supply shops proffering paints, inks, brushes, and canvas. Yet 15 years after a genocide marked by 100 days of soul-crushing violence, a small cooperative arts center is finding a foothold and fostering a new community of artists, dancers, and musicians to help Rwanda inch toward reconciliation.
The Ivuka Arts center (ivuka means “rebirth”) is housed in a small indoor/outdoor space in Kigali, just a few blocks from the British and Kenyan embassies. It was founded in 2007 by visual artist Collin Sekajugo as a multipurpose facility that contains studio space, hosts workshops, and helps fledgling painters and sculptors “make a living from their art,” Sekajugo tells Peace Review (July-Sept. 2009).
In 2008 daily encounters with Kigali’s street kids inspired Sekajugo to make even more of Ivuka’s meager square footage: He started RwaMakondera, a dance troupe for poor children. The energetic group of 45 includes kids between 3 and 12 years old—“Yes,” Sekajugo exclaims, “our youngest dancer is 3 years old!”—and focuses on teaching them to tell centuries-old stories using Rwandan traditions like the intore, a fluid, delicate dance with movements resembling both ballet and tai chi. “It gives them some roots,” Sekajugo says.
“The group was founded on the ideology that every child has hope and talent, and that this hope and talent only need to be nurtured, to find an outlet, to be represented,” he says. “If you look into these kids’ eyes, you can see they have a lot to say, they just have no means of expressing it. Now they have music and dance.”
Ivuka’s artists tend not to address the genocide in their works. “It’s still a very sensitive subject here,” Sekajugo explains, “perhaps too sensitive.” He stresses, though, that there’s power of unity inherent in the RwaMakondera project. “Music and dance teach the kids a lot about reconciliation, what it means to live with each other, in a community. There are different ethnicities in the group, and when they dance together, they have to forget about all these differences; they’re just one.”