Exploring mental health with personal art chronicle

Friday September 24 2021

“Caged”, is an acrylics on canvas painting by Teta Chel and how she became a prisoner of her own mind. PHOTO | ANDREW I. KAZIBWE


With debate on mental health no longer a hidden concern, Rwanda visual artist Michelin Teta alias Teta Chel, 22 is leading her audience through personal experience, uniquely changing the usual health campaign narrative.

Dubbed Chronicles of a Hopeless Dreamer, following the recent lift on the ban to events due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this exhibition sets a unique record of not only being one of the very few events ushering in the public event culture, but also makes Teta the first female visual Artist to stage a solo exhibition since the clampdown on events.

Even more remarkable beyond being her debut solo exhibition, coming at a time artists have been through harsh times, is that she single-handedly financed this creation.

Her 22-painting collection, adorning the walls of Indiba Art Space, a facility located in Kimihurura, Kigali, is a travelogue through her life since childhood.

She conveys emotion, and especially depression. Teta’s paintings are striking semi-abstract images mostly of female figures, through which she conveys loneliness, worry, pain, trouble, misery, or feelings of loss.

“I was depressed, but I am over it now,” Teta told The EastAfrican.


Her exhibition is divided into three sections, which catalogue her personal experience into and out of depression.

Therapy in music and art

Her experience started in infancy. While she was playing with her friends in the neighbourhood, she overheard adults converse, expressing pity that Teta had been left all alone.

That is how she came to learn that her twin brother had passed on at birth, detail her parents had kept secret, hence The Departure, a painting of a sorrowful girl hiding near a door.

This changed her view of life, to question why life had turned out this way, leaving her alone. How would it have been had her brother survived?

She felt lonely and in her paintings Caged, Library, Self Portrait, and Selfness, reflect her self-search for answers, to gradually embarking onto a mission to fill in the gaps and void.


A painting depicting how unstable mental health binds people's wellbeing. PHOTO | ANDREW I. KAZIBWE

Through Dear Smile, Teta recounts the vacuum within her whereas society all around her depicted happy people. She wondered about this difference and whether they were ever troubled. She then resolved to face reality and heal.

The last section of paintings titled Memories 1 and Memories 2 are images of Rwanda’s New Age musicians like Kenny K-Shot, B-Threy, Ish Kevin, Big Game, Skid, Ngara, Kivumbi King, Painted Luck, Yannick, and her friend Angelo.

Most of them are Afro hip-hop and R&B musicians, and it was through their lyrics that her dark experience was picked and voiced. In music and art, she finds refuge and therapy.

Teta also showcases a documentary film too. The 33-minute video also presents the 22 paintings, which are accompanied by poems, of her recounting her journey through depression to healing, and interspersed with testimonies of the subject and how it is perceived by some of her friends.

After her Art course at Nyundo School of Art, Rubavu district in 2019, and a diploma in Graphic Arts and Design, she settled for fashion, while concurrently working on this project that she self-funded after saving Rwf500,000 ($500) and help from friends who helped her set up a website.

Unlike the norm in exhibitions, her paintings carry no price tags, saying: “I wanted people to focus on the message before thinking about the price.”