By Joseph Ondiek
When historians finally compile the history of contemporary post-genocide art movement in Rwanda, Collin Sekajugo’s name will be engraved somewhere in bold gold letters.
Born in 1980 in Uganda, Collin Sekajugo has etched his name in the annals of history as the father of contemporary art in Rwanda, through his Ivuka Art Center that he established in 2007 with a vision of using arts to change lives after earlier travelling around eastern and southern Africa on a series of study tours.
Ivuka Art Center, based in Kacyiru, a Kigali suburb, didn’t only become an incubator for most Rwandan artists that have established their names in Rwanda’s art industry now, but many of the artists that came through Ivuka were later influential in opening new art centers that are now ubiquitous in Kigali.
They include Inema Art Center, Yego Art Center, Niyo Art Center and the defunct Uburanga Art Center, among others. Most of the artists now working and displaying their works in these art centers trace their apprenticeship to Ivuka.
The birth of Ivuka Art Center
Sekajugo says that when he came to establish Ivuka Art Center, Rwanda was regarded as a new born baby that struggled to reconcile and reconstruct itself from its turbulent past. Ivuka, meaning rebirth, was later to become a center of hope for ambitious youth who sought life meaning through art.
He says: “Ivuka’s creative activities included a joint studio space for aspiring visual artists and a children’s dance troupe called Rwamakondera (Kinyarwanda for horns) that brought together disadvantaged children and taught them dance skills to heal, educate and give them a sense of hope for the future.”
Ivuka Art Center celebrated its 10th anniversary last year that coincided with Sekajugo’s latest repertoire of artwork under the title “The Futurist”. He says the FUTURIST is an impressionistic portrayal of a creative that’s struggling to replace Africa’s colonial imagery with unconventional individualism.
“I want THE FUTURIST to become a virtual pioneer for pushing boundaries that are created by stereotypical classification of a people that we are, as opposed to who we actually are or who we might be,” writes Sekajugo in the preface of a handbook where he publishes some of his artwork under THE FUTURIST.
Like most artists, Sekajugo’s passion for art started while he was still young. He started with drawing sketches in his books while in primary school. In early 2000, he travelled to Kenya where he says he used to visit Musizi Art Gallery on Kimathi Street and got introduced to some of the artists there and their work. He also met a friend called Rodi in Kenya who introduced him to graffiti.
“I kept going back and forth to Kenya since I was already showing deep interest in art, to harness my skills,” he says.
In 2003, Sekajugo says he hooked up with his late friend Jean Claude Sekijege in Rwanda who really showed him Kigali and its art scene at that time.
“By this time, there were a couple of artists like Epa Binamungu and Pascal Bushayija who were keeping the flame of visual art in Rwanda alive. But even at that time, I felt Kigali needed much more art space for youthful artists,” says Sekajugo.
He adds that he did his first art exhibition in Kigali at Novotel, now Umubano Hotel in Kacyiru, in 2004. Sekajugo later travelled to southern African countries like Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa, “to see what they were doing in those countries” since he wanted to use that experience to start his art project he had envisioned while in Kigali. This was later to be the birth of Ivuka.
“My main thought during this period was how I could use my artistic skills to contribute to the reconstruction process that Rwanda was going through. This was a period of rebirth in all facets of life and I was determined to be part of it,” adds Sekajugo.
The rest, as they say, is history. Ivuka Art Center was established to provide an art space for young talented artists in 2007. He says its creation was to inspire confidence in these artists who lacked space to express themselves.
In 2008, he hired professional musicians and dancers to teach kids music and dance skills as an after-school programme, and to keep the vulnerable ones off the streets.
“The dance troupe has also taught them how to work together, instill discipline in them and to become receptive to each other, regardless of their background,” says Sekajugo.
Sekajugo says he’s proud of what Ivuka has achieved over the past decade, giving opportunity to visual artists who have now grown to become leading lights in the now vibrant Rwandan visual art space. The dance troupe also has produced skilled dancers who now showcase their talents not only in Rwanda but also internationally.
Innovative art space
He adds that he has come back to Kigali to oversee revamping of Ivuka Art Center to become an innovative art space where new ideas are going to be implemented.
Sekajugo’s recent shows include “Young Guns” at Sulger-Buel Lovell Gallery in London, UK (February 2018), “Cape Town Art Fair” at International Convention Center in Cape Town, South Africa (February 2018) and “Ubuntu”, at Eclectica Contemporary in Cape Town, South Africa (January 2018).
His work also currently showcases in different art galleries in London, South Africa, Dubai, Nairobi, Kigali and Kampala.
This article first appeared on Chwezi Traveller