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Rwanda's Creative Scene: A Force to Be Reckoned With in 2023

Updated: May 2

Yesterday, I had the privilege of experiencing an incredibly impactful art installation: the "On Terraced Earth" exhibit created by the artist Innocent Nkurunziza and curated by the art historian Talia Lieber. Located on a terraced peninsula on Lake Ruhondo, the exhibit was crafted entirely from natural materials such as rocks, clay, and tree bark. Not only was it aesthetically pleasing, but it also emphasised the importance of preserving and conserving the environment. This exhibit was a powerful demonstration of the strength of Rwanda's creative scene in 2023 and we're only in the first month of the year.

Eruption" (2021) by Innocent Nkurunziza. Black bark cloth mounted on linen and mixed media paints featuring a view of Lake Ruhondo, this piece was created in response to the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in May 2021, it's a powerful representation of the artist's emotions and thoughts on this event. -- Photo Credit: Cynthia Butare.

Rwanda has always been known for its rich and vibrant culture, with a wealth of traditional art forms, craftsmanship, music, and dance passed down through generations. However, what truly sets the creative scene apart today is the new generation of creatives who are breathing fresh life into these traditions, creating something truly unique and authentic. Rwandan artists are not just creating beautiful, aesthetically pleasing pieces, but also deeply meaningful, something that reflects the country's identity and emotions.

After 2 years of curfew and lockdowns, the creative scene, like all of our social lives, was greatly affected. But as restrictions lifted, it was as if a window was opened, and a vibrant cultural scene burst forth once more. Cultural events in 2022 were popping up everywhere, filling the void of connection and community that had been missed. Some of the performances I attended in 2022 left a profound impact on me, and gave me a glimpse into the creative scene of 2023 as well as an insight into the promising future of Rwanda's creative scene.

One particularly notable event I attended in 2022 was Michael Makembe's performance at the French Institute of Kigali, which seamlessly blended traditional and contemporary elements in a captivating and memorable way. As an audio cultural music archivist and beatmaker, Makembe brought fishermen from the Western Province to the city to perform with him. These fishermen, who typically sing on boats while they fish, were able to showcase their talents and cultural traditions in a unique setting. The fusion of Makembe's contemporary beats with the traditional singing of the fishermen on the boats of Lake Kivu was truly a one-of-a-kind experience. This performance not only highlighted the rich cultural heritage of the fishermen but also served as a powerful reminder that contemporary music can find inspiration from local cultures.

Cedric Mizero's performance at l'Espace in Kacyiru, Rwanda. - Photo Credit: Cynthia Butare.

Another performance that left a deep impression on me was Cedric Mizero's at l'Espace. This powerful and thought-provoking performance told the story of his lifelong friend Moses Turahirwa through a unique blend of dance, symbolism, and visual storytelling. The 50 performers on stage, each with their heads shrouded in mesh bags and dressed in white gloves and transparent tights, were beautifully choreographed to move in harmony with the main character. Cedric explained that these 50 performers represented the main character's thoughts, symbolically portrayed as caterpillars attempting metamorphosis but suffocated by the main character's struggles with mental well-being. This performance was a masterful display of artistic expression, using symbolism to convey powerful emotions and ideas without relying on dialogue, leaving the audience with an open interpretation.

An impactful experience was Amelia Umuhire's audio documentary at l'Espace. The documentary, featuring testimonies in French and Kinyarwanda, with English subtitles on screen, tells the personal story of Amelia's father. I was particularly moved by her choice to use an audio format, as she explained that footage from old TV archives of the Genocide against the Tutsi did not convey the emotional intricacies of the story she wanted to share. By using an audio format, she was able to delve deeper into the emotions, making for a more meaningful impact on audiences, and ultimately paying homage to her father and his memory.

Rwanda's creative scene is growing and gaining attention, as a new generation of artists experiment with new forms of art, telling their stories in new ways, and creating thought-provoking pieces that reflect the country's identity and emotions. They're pushing boundaries, making traditional forms their own and evoking a sense of belonging.

Overall, 2023 is poised to be a year of creativity in Rwanda's creative industry. The new generation of creatives are ready to share their talents with the world, and they are drawing inspiration from the country's rich heritage and culture. They're creating profound pieces of work that will make you think, and this creativity is likely to continue to flourish. It's an exciting time for Rwanda's creative scene, and I can't wait to see what this new generation of creatives will come up with next.

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