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Kigali’s Ivuka Arts Centre

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Kigali’s Ivuka Arts Centre

Jean-Baptiste Mpungirehe was particularly proud of a wire sculpture that he had assembled. Standing some four feet high, its heart shaped form was adorned with pink condom packets. “It was my way of celebrating Valentine’s Day last February, and AIDS day,” he explained with a chuckle. Other works kept with the flask theme and demonstrated remarkable verve and freedom.

Such freedom of expression seems a comparatively rare commodity in Rwanda where conformity, discipline and regimen seem to be highly prized by the administration.

But the impression given by the Ivuka Arts Centre is one of a youthful, unbridled celebration of creativity, and a yearning of the young people who are involved with it to break free of the almost automatic association of their country with the genocide of 20 years ago.

That is not to say that Rwanda’s youth simply wish to forget their history, far from it. And despite the government’s best efforts, there does seem to be a lingering sense that ethnicity could again raise its ugly head in the pressure cooker society that is today’s Rwanda.

But in a sense, it is as if the genocidal era belongs to another generation and the youth want to move on with their lives. It helps when you realise that most of the artists at Ivuka Arts Centre were either yet to be born, or were very young at the time of the brutal killings of 1994. And for many, coming to terms with that awful past can be easily accommodated with the therapeutic activity of creativity.

For the visitor to Kigali, the Ivuka Arts Centre makes a welcome counterpoint to the atmosphere of Kigali’s major tourist draw – the Genocide Memorial Centre.

On a visit to the Memorial Centre, partly opened for the first time 10 years ago, in 2004, it was truly moving to experience the care and sensibility of the place, built on the graves of a quarter of a million souls who perished during the genocide.

The Windows of Hope in the Memorial Centre, stained glass tributes to those that died, were particularly inspiring, with the bright African sun illuminating their colourful designs.

I had fallen into conversation with a visitor from Zimbabwe who, as we viewed the show cases of skulls and bones, shook his head sadly and commented that in his culture, this would never be allowed. “We believe,” he said, “that our ancestors’ spirits will never rest until their bones are placed in the earth.” That said, we both agreed that the Genocide Memorial Centre was an exceptional tribute to those who lost their lives in the genocide, said to have been Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

As in many African countries, many of the youth feel themselves to be marginalised from society, with the lack of employment and opportunities. But Ivuka is living testament that with vision and determination, it is possible to turn the corner and establish a purpose and, of course, the all-important means to earn a living.

As Sekajugo himself says: “In 2007 ours was just a dream where the light we foresaw gave us hope and courage, which today has transformed not only ours but many other lives. Visit our centre to learn about the true renaissance of Rwandan art.”

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