“Autour de Moi” is an exhibition that was held in the new Banque Populaire du Rwanda (BPR) building, and opened to the public from July 19th – 31st.
Many people walked in, out of curiosity, to see what was happening in this bank building because some colorful paintings and installations could be seen through the glass windows.
There are very few spaces designed to accommodate visual art exhibitions in Kigali – most exhibits take place in art galleries, hotels, coffee shops, or art-related institutions.
Space is very crucial when it comes to planning an exhibition because the showcase of an artist is always in response to what kind of space is available. Thus, the two have to come together.
Despite the challenges, the curators of this art exhibition successfully found an ideal space: the design of the building, the displays, the lighting and the concepts embedded in the art-works, perfectly matched the theme of the exhibit – “Autour de Moi” (Around Me).
The curators, Maison Beaulier, chose “Autour de Moi” as the theme because through the eyes of artists, it explores their ever-changing personal environment and surrounding.
This exhibition featured more than 15 artists, among them five talented women, and the type of art ranged from painting, sculpture, installation, illustration, collage, poetry, stop-motion animation and photography.
“This exhibition is different from any other exhibition I have ever attended.”
“You can see that artists were free to express what they had on their minds as opposed to making decorative artworks like traditional dancers and baskets “uduseke” that mostly sell in the Rwandan society”, Muzika, one of the viewers, commented, pointing at Brave Tangz’s metallic window-like sculpture titled: “Personal Life Of Humans On How They Live and Die”.
Every artist used different media to communicate an idea, and I liked how the viewers got to have a different interpretation depending on how they engaged with a particular artwork.
Glancing at Crista Uwase’s collage work, some viewers see beautiful women in traditional attire – but the texture of her collage tempt many to touch the art, and they are surprised once they realize that the artworks are actually made of pieces of paper.
“I can imagine how much time it takes her to glue these bits of torn paper, her level of patience is amazing”, Pamela, another viewer, commented.
Crista Uwase’s work proposes a whole new way of perceiving the beauty of a Rwandan woman without having to portray the standardized facial features our society tends to associate with beauty.
“Umutako”, a title of one her artworks made me reflect on ladies I see in traditional weddings.
In the ancient Rwandan culture, Ibyanganga (two sticks worn on the temples held by two straps across the forehead: one strap below the forehead and another on the hairline), were worn by married women, whereas unmarried ladies had to wear a pair of sticks below the temples hanging down on the cheeks, known as ubusasa, together with ubuhivu and ikinigi.
But do Rwandans still care about the meaning of these traditional headpieces and attire, or they perceive them as mere decoration on their head?
We got several interpretations about Patrick Ruganintwali’s artwork titled, “Mourir avec Foi”, too.
Although the rosaries and cloths attached to this painting reminded me of the Genocide Against the Tutsi church images, a young lady I talked with had a positive experience.
“Faith is a very important thing in my life, I like the cross on this painting because it echoes how important [it is] one has to die in faith to receive eternal life”, she reflected.
Cedric Mizero’s installation of a bed made with white sheets and IV bottles attached to a white heart holding flowers, was also one of the appealing pieces in this exhibition.
Getting closer, you realize that the flowers – along with an old, rusted and blunt knife – are placed in an opening of the heart. Reading the short quotes attached to every IV bottle raises a lot concern.
It makes one think about mental wellness, and reflects on how our Rwandan society harshly responds to people going through emotional breakdown.
In this exhibition, artists also explored other, multi-disciplinary ways to express their ideas.
Poet Natacha Muziramakenga used different media to portray different aspects of transformation.
Her poems were vulnerable and bold at the same time, and she expanded her storytelling with photos, collages, and a projected stop-motion animated video.
In this exhibition, one also came across screens where short videos kept replaying themselves, one of them about a project titled: “Bring Art to the Community”, initiated by two young artists, Isaac Irumva and Brave Tangz.
Another exhibit, by Thomas Mandl, talks about envisioning a “One World Flag” hanging in different places on the earth as a symbol of unity, open borders and peace.
Mandl also hanged his own valid passport to convey the message that it is a mere mix of paper and plastic deciding on where you are allowed to go on this planet.
“As a German, I acknowledge the privilege I have to travel from one nation to another, and I find it unfair that there are some people whose wish to travel somewhere gets to be determined by a stamp in this piece of plastic and paper”, Mandl conveyed.
You could see the specificities of each and every artist through the media they chose to express their ideas.
You can still see the facial expressions of Moses Izabiriza’s characters despite the fact that he uses heavy mixed media.
Bruce Niyonkuru Canda’s use of tomato sauce cans and aluminum food containers to make a portrait of a woman is impressive.
The titles of Feline Ntabangana’s artworks’ also provides a deeper meaning of her abstract paintings.
Benjamin Rusagara’s title, “Death in Flat”, on his collage made of lion’s mane (known as “umugara w’intore” in kinyarwanda) on a canvas, raises so many questions in mind.
“Colère de Terre”: reading this title on Antonshi (Antonio Nshimiyimana)’s work suddenly makes you see Earth’s wrath in every stroke of his brush.
The huge installation of a spider by Maximilien Muhawenimana was also the most visited installation, no one left without posing on it.
The colorful illustrations of women by Christella Bijou attracted many eyes, and her titles perfectly matched with the poses of those beautiful women.
Timothy Wandulu also has a unique way of raising concerns on political matters using mixed media self-portraits.
In “Autour de Moi” – curated by Kevin Beaulier and Nelson Niyakire representing Maison Beaulier – artists did their best to convey their ideas and what they see “autour d’eux”.
Everyone who passed by this exhibition left with the message that art can be about anything, and the artist’s intention is not to put the viewer to the test unraveling a message or puzzle hidden in the artwork, but rather, to transmit an experience.
About the Author
Uwera Rutamu Fabiola, Art lover.