Today, creative minds around the world are rallying around the issues of climate change, women’s empowerment, education for all, global health, and more by producing art that starts conversations and empowers us to take action for a better world.
Rwanda, an East African country, is famous for its undulating hills, beautiful valleys, and exquisite green landscapes. Yet, thanks to the work of Rwandan artists like Jemima Kakizi Akimanizanye, there is now art to compliment the country’s extraordinary aesthetic attractiveness.
From painting and showcasing women's bodily autonomy and stretch marks to making textile designs worn by rural Rwandan people, artists around the country are using their creativity to call for justice, inspire future generations, represent their culture and bring about positive change.
Not only are we highlighting the work of Rwandan artists who are making a difference in their home country through their creative expressions, but Global Citizen is also coming to Rwanda!
Yes, you heard that right! On Dec. 6, we’re hosting Move Afrika: Rwanda at the BK Arena in Kigali. This will be the first event in a five-year effort to establish a pioneering music touring circuit throughout the African continent.
Who will be there? The event will be headlined by none other than Grammy and Pulitzer-winning artist Kendrick Lamar. He'll be joined on stage by DJ TOXXYK, musician Ariel Wayz, media personality Jackie Lumbasi, comedian and media personality Arthur NkusI, and award winning choreographer Sherrie Silver — not to mention artists who are still to be announced, so keep your eyes peeled for more. His creative imprint pgLang will also curate this event, as well as future Move Afrika installments for the next five years. Learn more about the event and how you can get your hands on a pair of tickets.
With all of that good news out of the way, let’s get back to Rwanda’s art scene. Here are five recent pieces of “artivism” from Rwandan artists, designers, and photographers that will make you stop, stare, think, and hopefully act.
1. Kakizi Jemima Akimanizanye: a Leading Voice for Rwandan Women Artists
Kakizi Jemima Akimanizanye is an accomplished artist and curator with a multidisciplinary background hailing from Rwanda. She is renowned for her innovative approach to tackling social issues through art.
Akimanizanye’s creative work focuses on exploring taboo subjects and social issues within her community such as women’s empowerment, teenage pregnancy, gender-based violence, environmental protection, and mental health, according to Creative Action Institute, a non-profit organization that catalyzes community-driven solutions that advance gender equality and climate justice globally. Akimanizanye’s artwork consists of abstract portrait oil paintings with women at the center of her work.
Akimanizanye noticed a lack of visibility for women in the arts scene compared to men and as a result, she co-founded Rwanda Womxn Artists Collective in 2020 to raise awareness and provide support for women artists. Additionally, Akimanizanye founded the Impundu Arts Center in 2022 with the goal of further promoting women artists in Rwanda.
2. Alain Gakwaya: the Painter Capturing Stories of his Home Country
Alain Gakwaya is a Rwandan artist, painter, and activist, creating custom paintings of African life and social justice based in San Antonio.
Born in Rwanda, Gakwaya started his art journey during the third grade. When he moved to the US, at the age of 16, his passion for art continued to grow and evolve.
Specializing in portraiture, Gakwaya paints to tell his story and the stories of his homeland: Rwanda, drawing inspiration from everyday life in Africa. Gakwaya also uses his art to address social issues including human rights, women's rights and police brutality.
When Gakwaya is not creating his own artworks, he is giving back to the local community through facilitating the next generation of young artists and helping them explore social issues through art. Gakwaya collaborated on an art collection with Contemporary’s MOSAIC Student Artist Program, called “With Urgency: Yesterday, Tomorrow and Today”, which ran between Dec. 2, 2022 to Mar. 3, 2023. Gakwaya worked with art students who participated and created artworks for the collection.
According to The Contemporary at Blue Star, a nonprofit institution for contemporary art in San Antonio. “With Urgency: Yesterday, Tomorrow and Today”art collection explored current events and experimented with found materials, and also discussed personal and societal narratives of trauma and violence towards youth, women and other marginalized groups, as well as student’s everyday lives, creative identity, and memory.
3. Cedric Mizero: the Multi-talented Artist Showcasing Rural Rwanda
Cedric Mizero is a self-taught multi-talented artist from Rwanda. Mizero chooses to mix multiple disciplines in his work, including fashion, design, spatial installations, performance, and most recently photography and film.
Mizero has a distinctive vision of fashion that seeks to drive social change. His art collection, called "Fashion for All (2015-2018)" was a long term project that focused on the people of the rural village where he was raised, both men and women, and is the cornerstone of his work.
According to Somerset House, Mizero’s art presents an inclusive vision of fashion that rejects limitations based on age, size, social, or economic status.
Mizero approaches garments as a way to have the attention of his audience and communicate complex social and cultural messages.
4. Nyambo MasaMara: The Pan-African Fashion Designer Using Art to Showcase the Beauty of the African Continent
Nyambo MasaMara, who also goes by “Eli Gold” is a Rwandan born fashion designer and visual artist.
MasaMara was forced to leave his home country, Rwanda, when he was 13 as the country was wracked by a civil war and genocide in 1944, a journey that took him across several countries within the African continent including Tanzania, Burundi, and Malawi, before arriving in South Africa, where he is based now.
According to Independent Online, the message MasaMara wants to show through his designs is changing perspectives and mindsets around African heritage, culture and traditions, evoking a sense of pride.
MasaMara’s fashion brand, which is also named ‘MasaMara’, looks to bring the beauty of African past traditions and cultures with a modern twist. An article from Independent Online described the MasaMara fashion brand as consisting of vibrant African prints to the ready-to-wear unisex designs. The brand also honors the cultural wear of various African tribes while blending these elements with urban active wear, with the aim of introducing traditional values to today’s generation, while celebrating their innovation.
According to Independent Online MasaMara views fashion as not only a way for people to express their authentic selves but also believes it can also promote social change within society by providing economic opportunities for families.
MasaMara’s fashion brand also named “MasaMara” is leading by example in bringing about social change. During an interview with Independent Online, MasaMara mentioned that his brand’s garments are locally produced in Cape Town (where the brand is based) and that the brand works with local communities who help to manufacture clothing and assist with the brand’s pieces.
5. Jacques Nkinzingabo: the Street Photographer Reimagining Modern Rwanda
Jacques Nkinzingabo is a self-taught photographer and visual storyteller from Rwanda, specializing in documentary photography.
Nkinzingabo is determined to tell the story of modern-day Rwanda through his photography.
“When I started to document my country I was very tired of people coming and just talking about the genocide,” Nkinzingabo told CNN.
Through his photography, Nkinzingabo strives to capture the beauty of Rwanda and its people. He intends to convey Rwanda's resilience and complexity, highlighting its history and current state, beyond the trauma of genocide. This can be seen in his various photography projects, including “The Country in Progress.”
Nkinzingabo's photography focuses on cultural diversity, memories, migration, identity, and social issues. He also documents daily life in Kigali and street scenes
Nkinzingabo is passionate about inspiring the next generation of photographers in Rwanda. When he is not out on the streets capturing daily life in Kigali, he teaches young people the art of photography, showcasing his students' work in local exhibitions.
Moreover, Nkinzingabo is making a significant contribution towards shining a spotlight on Rwanda's photography scene on a global scale including in India, Germany, France. Not only has he gained international recognition for his own photography, but he is also leveraging his platform to showcase other talented Rwandan photographers. Nkinzingabo, along with other co-founders of KwandaArt Foundation, are dedicated to promoting Rwanda's art and photography community through various events such as festivals, workshops, and exhibitions.
Nkinzingabo also recently opened the first and only Photography Gallery and Center in Kigali, where he displays the work of other Rwandan photographers as well as hosting international photographers’ exhibitions, workshops, artist talks, portfolio and reviews, according to his website.
The Move Afrika: Rwanda campaign aims to promote stronger health systems as a pathway to promoting equity, create jobs and economic opportunity, and to call for the defense of our planet and its inhabitants. Take action with us for health systems, economic opportunity, and the planet and you could earn tickets to join us at the BK Arena in Kigali on Dec. 6. You can also purchase priority tickets directly. Here's everything you need to know about the Move Afrika: Rwanda event and campaign.