Exciting times lie ahead for the visual arts in Rwanda.
A series of exhibitions is planned to widen the scope of the national gallery at the Rwesero Arts Museum in Nyanza.
There, a new policy of guest exhibitions by Rwandan and foreign artists has been implemented by Lia Gieling, a Dutch woman who is just one year into her job as arts curator at the museum, part of the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda.
Previously the accent was on displaying the permanent collection. Now guest artists are to be given a look in.
First up — from May 18 and running through until September — are three artists who will share the museum galleries.
They are the South African photographer Pieter Hugo, Dutch photographer Andrea Stultiens and the Ugandan mixed media artist Collin Sekajugo, who has already earned a regional reputation for the quality of his montages using cut plastic water containers and other objets trouves. Examples can usually be seen at the One-Off Gallery in Rosslyn, Nairobi, among other places.
Hugo’s exhibition is certain to stir up painful memories. Called Rwanda 2004: Vestiges of a Genocide it deals with the country’s harrowing past.
The Rwanda Genocide Institute describes these powerful and disturbing pictures as offering, “a forensic view of some of the sites of mass execution and graves that stand as lingering memorials to the many thousands of people slaughtered.”
Hugo has donated the project to the museum, a gesture that left Gieling open mouthed with gratitude. “What a wonderful, generous thing to do,” she said, adding that the gift would form the core of what she hoped would be a series of substantial works in the museum collection.
And to be clear about the scale of the donation, Hugo is one of the most highly regarded — and highly priced — photographers on the international scene with the cost of a single print on the open market running into many thousands of dollars.
Aged 36 and born in Cape Town, Hugo focuses mainly on portraiture. He describes himself as “political with a small ‘p’, ” and his latest project (not being shown at the Rwesero) is Permanent Error, a sharp commentary on consumption and consumerism, projected through pictures of the people and landscape at an extensive dumping ground of obsolete technology, in Ghana.
Andrea Stultiens’ show, called The Kaddu Wasswa Archive, is like Hugo’s, packed with regional relevance.
It is a visual biography of one Kaddu Wasswa, now aged 79, who has lived in Uganda all his life, serving his community as a teacher and social worker.
What is special about him is that he has always documented his activities, in writing as well as photographs, and Stultiens believes his life reflects the history of Uganda, which this year celebrates 50 years of independence from British rule.
Stultiens met Wasswa through a family contact some four years ago and since then has turned his personal archive into a photographic project combining her own pictures with his.
Collin Sekajugo, aged 31, who runs the Weaver Bird Arts Community at Masaka, in north east Uganda, is showing photographs of sculptures made during a recent workshop with Ugandan, Kenyan and Rwandan artists at the Camp Ndegeya sculpture park currently being developed outside Masaka, his home town.
Sekajugo, who with a Rwandan mother and Ugandan father moves easily between the two countries and their cultures, has another strong connection with Rwanda, having set up Ivuka Arts in the capital, Kigali. Ivuka is Kinyarwanda for Rebirth, and the centre helps to develop and promote young artists locally and internationally.
The Rwesero Arts Museum is housed in what was to have been the palace of Rwanda’s King Mutara III Rudahigwa, who unfortunately died before taking possession. Suitably cool and spacious and featuring dazzlingly tiled floors, the museum is in a magnificent setting, perched on the side of a valley about two kilometres from Nyanza Town.
Commented curator Gieling: “We are hoping these exhibitions — the first of many by guest artists — will mark a resurgence of interest in the visual arts and lead to the museum becoming a must-stop on the itinerary of every visitor to this beautiful country and of course for the Rwandans themselves.”
Frank Whalley runs Lenga Juu, a fine arts and media consultancy based in Nairobi. Email: [email protected]