Rwanda’s Newest Visual Arts Scene

The year 2018 has been an interesting one for visual art lovers, and artists alike. From several milestones, successful art exhibitions, to launching new galleries, Rwandan visual artists had a lot to reap in 2018. The New Times brings you a quick recap of key events that shaped the arts scene in 2018.

East Africa Art Biennale

In February, the East Africa Art Biennale, a regional arts market was staged in Rwanda for the first time in its history. The biennale is staged every two years by the East Africa Art Biennale Association, a not-for-profit organisation formed in Tanzania in 2003.

It is a forum, where regional visual artists collectively showcase their art works, with limited admission for a few international guest artists.

A portrait by Serge Niyonsiba (Rwanda) exhibited at EA Biennal in Kenya |
Photo courtesy IG (@noir_hippiee)

In Kigali, the seven-day forum was staged at the Hotel Des Mille Collines from February 12, and two Rwandan artists and a foreign artist based in Rwanda exhibited from Rwanda.

The biennale accepts submissions to exhibit paintings, sculptures, print works, conceptual and contextual works and installations, video art, textile art, and photography. The activities are usually spiced up by side activities like dance, theater, poetry, comedy and music performances.

Kanyaburanga Art Center

This art space opened officially at the end of March, one of the few new art galleries that cropped up in the year. It is located in Sonatubes, Kicukiro, below the Classic Hotel complex, and is owned by visual artist, Jamal Ntagara.

Jamal Ntagaravisual artist and founder of Kanyaburanga Art Center | File

Ntagara is among a generation of visual artists that cut their artistic teeth at the once popular Uburanga Art Studio in Kimihurura, which he joined in 2014. At Uburanga, he learnt the professional aspects of the trade, and when, in 2016, Bosco Bakunzi, the founder of Uburanga relocated to Canada, Ntagara was ready to try it on his own.

A crocodile made of re-usable parts |Photo by Moses Opobo

A visit to the studio quickly reveals the artist’s fondness for themes such as nature and environmental conservation. It is also a den for recyclable art, with the artist making use of any discarded materials he can lay his hands on –computer parts, car and motorcycle tyres and parts.

Rwanda Art Museum

In May, the Rwanda Art Museum opened its doors to the public, becoming the country’s only museum of contemporary art.

Located in Kanombe, near the Kigali International Airport, the museum is housed in the same building that once served as a residence for former President, Juvenal Habyarimana, who occupied the facility until 1994. Pasteur Bizimungu, the country’s third President also occupied the building between 1994 and 2000.

May 18, the launch date coincided with international celebrations to mark the International Museum Day.

The Institute of National Museums of Rwanda (INMR) took over the facility in 2003, and developed it into one of the country’s eight museums, renaming it the Presidential Palace Museum.

Prior to that, between 2006 and 2018, the INMR ran an art museum in an old building in Rwesero-Nyanza. Today at the Rwanda Art Museum, one can still get a glimpse of the some of the exhibits that once occupied the museum in Rwesero.

Contemporary art installation at the Rwanda Art Museum inaugurated on 18th May 2018
Photo by Nadege Imbabazi

The museum is open to all Rwandan artists, although to make use of it, one has to be a member of the Rwanda Art Council (RAC), a government initiative aimed at fostering collaboration among artists.

As a plus, the museum comes with a children’s section where they can try their hands at painting.

Epa Binamungu: The Journey With The Sun

In November, veteran visual artist Epa Binamungu staged a solo exhibition dubbed; The Journey With The Sun, at the University of Rwanda’s ultra new School of Architecture and Built Environment (SABE).

Epa Binamungu inside his art studio | Photo by Moses Opobo

The exhibition was a celebration of Binamungu’s 45 years in the industry, and indeed the artist showcased 45 art pieces, one piece for each of the years. It was a collaboration between Binamungu’s Inganzo Arts Center, and SABE. The paintings were in mixed media, and acrylic on canvas.

The 64 year old held his first solo art exhibition in 1973, in the Democratic Republic of Congo where he was born in 1954.

Jennifer Mudahogora

She is one of the few female photographers in the country, in a disproportionately male-dominated industry. Mudahogora specialises in abstract photography, a field she ventured into in 2016. The same year, she participated in a group photo exhibition dubbed ‘The Journey’, at the Kigali Center For Photography in Kacyiru.

Photo courtesy of Kwanda Art (

In March this year, she returned to the same venue for her solo exhibition titled ‘Passing By’. The exhibition largely featured images of Rwanda’s countryside.

Interestingly, Mudahogora’s photography is done not by a gizmo camera, but rather her smart phone camera.

Art Rwanda-Ubuhanzi Project

In August, Art Rwanda-Ubuhanzi was launched to fanfare, as a national project to identify artistic talent across a handful of art disciplines, groom and equip them with entrepreneurial skills.

Initiated by the Ministry of Sports and Culture (MINISPOC), the project was implemented by Imbuto Foundation as a partner and stakeholder.

Participants of Art Rwanda-Ubuhanzi |Photo courtesyArt Rwanda-Ubuhanzi

Under the project, participants were selected and grouped in six categories: Music and Dance, Acting and Drama, Plastic Arts, Film and Photography, and Literature. The competition was open to all Rwandans from the age of 18-35, with a demonstrable artistic talent.

Nationwide auditions were held at six different sites across the country, at the end of which the judging panel selected 587 contestants. This number was further trimmed down to 70 during pre-selections, and these headed to boot camp.

Some of 70 young people selected to Art Rwanda-Ubuhanzi’s 2018 bootcamp | Photo by Emmanuel Kwizera

This month, winning individuals and categories were recognised and awarded at an event graced by First Lady Jeanette Kagame. Winning categories were fashion, photography and cinematography, and each bagged a cash prize of Rwf10 million.

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