The vast majority of Rwandan artists are young people, who represent 65% of the population.
They are hyper connected, in the image of the current world, they have multiple identities partly as a consequence of the historical fractures of the country, they juggle with the norms imposed by the complexity of the post-genocide, religions and the tradition ,which are often an amalgam, and the desire to express their vision to the world.
In view of these new materials that present themselves cumulatively through time, a change is drawing its premises in the world of arts in Rwanda.
Can we predict where we are going? What is the take of the Rwandan contemporary artist on his society?
What tools does he have at his disposal to understand his history and sharpen his reading of present times?
What are the stakes of creators’ identities in their work?
How, why and for whom do they create?
Do they find a balance through their multiple identities? How does this express itself through their work? Once it exists, what is its value and impact?
“Autour de Moi” does not have the ambition to answer these questions, we will content ourselves with asking them through this eclectic selection of works and artists, whose small stories come to superimpose themselves to the great History, in forms of painting, photography, collage, sculpture and installation.
We invite you to explore the interpretation of “this today”, through the eyes of these established artists, for most, who represent the first wave of Rwanda contemporary art scene.
They tell us about transformation and its process and maybe even the evolution of the state of things.
I met Kevin Beaulier and Nelson Niyakire, two curators and artists from Burundi but who claim the world.
Together they form Maison Beaulier Kigali.
I wanted to talk about the community that they have the ambition to create in Kigali, but especially the exhibition “Autour de Moi”, its success and its challenges through which we have done together, a quick tour of the visual arts scene in Kigali.
How did the Maison Beaulier adventure begin?
Kevin: Two years ago in Stockholm, I wanted to create a community of artists, art lovers and collectors. It was a way to bring together creative friends on one roof, a platform to inspire, exchange ideas, escape from the up-tight side of the institutions in Stockholm, for which I was working. The goal is to make a modern gallery with music, happenings, design, and art. I wanted to have a cool Under Dog side while staying on quality.
In which institution did you work in Stockholm?
I still work for the DDB, it’s an advertising agency, as a strategist, I also take care of PR and social networks.
Two careers at the same time. Do they meet?
Kevin: I would say that my PR work inspires a lot the way we build our brand, which is built on the pillars of advertising. Themes, visual language. When we started, it was rather a secret location concept, in Stockholm, then we moved to Munich where I organized my first exhibition “Porosity of borders” which was very much inspired by my trips between Stockholm and Munich for work. I found it interesting to observe my own situation as a Swede-Burundian always between the borders of Stockholm, Munich, Milan etc., hence the title of the exhibition, which was suggested to me by Nelson by the way.
Ah, did you already know each other at the time?
Nelson: Yes, we met in Buja in 2012. He already had that attraction for artists. He met Chris Shwagg (Congolese photographer living today in Kigali) who introduced us. Then, while I was studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Marseille, in 2016, he organized my very first European exhibition in Stockholm. We have been in contact since, as friends but always with the desire to work together. In 2018, I decided to leave Marseille and come to live in Kigali where I had a stay in 2015 during the Burundi crisis. I first wanted to test the waters and see how things are going, making the Mumasangano expo with Rwanda Arts Initiative in March 2019. Its success made me feel comfortable that something could be done here. In late April, Kevin came to Kigali and we decided to work together to create a link in Kigali with all Maison Beauliers, Atlanta, Milan, Munich and Stockholm.
Kevin: In fact my vision is to create a community of artists wherever I go, to mix artists wherever we have exhibited. Kigali for me is a return to the roots, that’s why I decided to move the parent company here. To be based here and to get to the world from here. So we created a company here. I did it with Nelson.
How does your plan look like?
Kevin: We are working to create our own space in Rwanda because we realized that there is a demand and a need, both for the artists, to express themselves, but also a space adapted to the public, which makes the accessible art.
Nelson: We are working on the popularization of art
How did the Rwandan audience react to the Autour de Moi exhibition? Because it is an audience that is not used to seeing this kind of exhibition
The first reaction is always strong. In general it is a good reaction. What I understood is that in Rwanda, we are not used to places devoted 100% to art, without speech behind or another program or event that feeds it.
Is that why it was difficult to find a space for the exhibition?
Nelson: It’s true that space can be problematic. We had a challenge with space. We were supposed to do the exhibition at the school of architecture, it was understood with the management of the school, then we were interrupted at 2 days of the event because they had changed their minds and they wanted to pay $ 10,000 to use the space for 1 month. This problem forced us to look for another place, which delayed us a lot and confirmed us in the idea that we need to create a dedicated space that would belong to the artists.
According to your experience of other places where you settled down quite easily Kevin, what explains the lack of space dedicated to art in Kigali?
Kevin: I think there is still no gain so we do not see the need for now.
Nelson: Since the Franco Rwandan Cultural Center closed, there has been no space dedicated to art and we have disconnected with the institutionalization of art. Small studios have grown a little wildly and in a less structured way and they isolated. There are not really any galleries, so there’s no way to see what’s happening on the visual arts scene in Rwanda, which is nevertheless rich.
Kevin: If we compare to other countries, where culture is expressed through visual art, here this rating came a bit late and was little exploited. It is changing quickly.
So what do you think you owe the success of “Autour de Moi”?
Kevin: Perseverance. We believe in what we do. We think about 20 years from now, 30 years and imagine growing up. That’s why we’ve been self-financing because we believe in it?
How did you proceed for curation? What were your criteria?
Nelson: We started with artists, their stories and the treatment of their works. They were really personal choices, artists touching us. Of course, those we have not selected remain contemporary artists.
With the theme Autour de Moi, we wanted to give a way to the artists, to express themselves with their own voice, so that they can tell an inventory of the art, the artist, and life in Kigali . They can tell their travels, first love etc. Things related to their personal history without necessarily talking about the general history of the country. What are they living today and how? It was a platform to tell their time without necessarily talking about their parents’ story.
Do you think such an exhibition challenges artists and pushes them to surpass themselves?
Nelson: I think it puts pressure of course, they come out of the isolation of their studio, and where they are not really confronts other artists, so yes it opens the spirits.
So what menu do you propose for the future of visual art in Rwanda?
Kevin: We would like to offer artists not just a space, but help and guide them. Kigali is full of talent but there are many who are not fed, cut. We would also like to help them with our network, organize residencies to improve their art and talent and be recognized at home and around the world.