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Imigongo Art: Preserving Cultural Heritage Through Painting

Imigongo Art: Preserving Cultural Heritage Through Painting

My tour of Kayonza started and ended at Imigongo Art Center. Upon arrival, I grabbed a cup of coffee and interacted with a veteran biker who was on his way to Nyagatare. Before I came back to Kigali, I paid another visit. This time, I rolled up my sleeves and tried my hand at painting.

Painting is an integral part of visual arts. Through painting, artists express their ideas and emotions. They tell their stories in a two-dimensional visual language. Their artworks come in all shapes, sizes, colors and texture.

Successful artists are driven by passion. German painter, Stefanie Thiele, goes to bed every night thinking, "I can’t wait to wake up in the morning and continue painting." She wishes she could skip sleeping. Stefanie and many other artists pour their hearts into their craft. They are entrepreneurs who followed their passion and the money is following them.

Back to Imigongo Art Center, my instructor was a young man namely Niyongere Emmanuel. He is an upcoming artist who takes pride in preserving his cultural heritage. He specializes in imigongo, a traditional Rwandan art originated from the Eastern Province.

Emmanuel informed me that imigongo art was invented in the 18th Century by Prince Kakira of the former semi autonomous kingdom of Gisaka. Kakira’s creative ideas gave the walls of his palace a new look. Over the years, the art evolved to suit the needs of modern architects and designers.

Initially, artists used colors produced from charcoal, cassava flour and a number of plant species. Today, Emanuel and his colleagues rely on industrial paint. They create frames on which patterns are drawn. Then they develop the sketches to create pronounced geometrical features. Materials used are cow dung, ash and glue. After a little bit of polishing, they add a layer of paint to the mix. Their creative work requires specialized skills and attention to detail.

Practicing painting stimulates the artist’s creative acumen. Painting sharpens the mind through conceptual visualization and implementation. Moreover, creating your own souvenir will give you a sense of satisfaction unlike no other. It is therapeutic. My painting skills need a lot of work but it feels good to keep a self-made piece of art irregardless of your level of adeptness. I will be painting more often.

Through imigongo experience, visitors who opt to spend a day with the artists learn how to make their own imigongo items. It is a great opportunity to acquire new skills, empower members of the host community and earn precious souvenirs.

The author is visiting all 30 districts of Rwanda. His tour of Kayonza is sponsored by Imigongo Art Center, Ikaze Rwanda Tours & Travel, Jambo Beach, Akagera Rhino Lodge, Ihema View Campsite and Silent Hill Hotel.


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