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Kigali Travel

Inema Art Center

As I go through the artwork hanging on the walls, warm, dark and light tunes of jazz fill up the air around me. The volume is just right, not too loud to distract you from the mix of colours on canvas in front of you and not too soft to be drowned out by the drizzle outside.

It’s an ugly day. Undecided. It wants to rain, but it also doesn’t. I’m torn between carrying an umbrella and possibly having to lag it around all day, unused, or leaving the house and praying every five minutes for the skies not to open. The Kigali heat is there, ever present, albeit cooler winds pacifying it these recent days. I put the umbrella in my bag, not giving it another thought.

It’s now day 3 of my lone navigation through the city. Kimironko Taxi Park has become my second home. I grab my mug of milk and samosas from a hidden mini-resto next to the exit stairs for a total of 500 RWF. It’s going to be an artsy day as I head into Kacyiru- the bonafide visual art hub of Kigali with its dense concentration of various art collectives. Luckily, it starts drizzling lightly while I’m already on a bus, wading through the traffic-light snarl up at Remera. “Good call,” I say and smile to myself.

Drizzle through a taxi window at Remera.

Being unsure whether there is a stop nearer to Inema, I alight at a bus stop near King Faisal hospital just to be safe. I have to walk a distance though, 700m thereabouts, and all the while it’s drizzling. There’s a lifting from the humid air and a cold breeze wafts into my shirt. I feel a little chill, but it’s welcome because I’m certain of the heat that’ll come as the day progresses.

Inema Art Centre, as it turns out, is right next to a bus stop. Shame, shame! But the stop is not indicated on the map, and the first time I’d come here was on a Thursday night, my mind still raw to this Kigali cityscape. Anyway, my sadness is lifted once I start descending into this beautifully built center, with its motley placements of artsy items littering a slope. Everything here is on a hill anyway, it’s a wonder how they make it all look and feel so effortlessly organized.

Inema is a Kinyarwanda word meaning a blessing, a gift, a talent – to cultivate, to give and to receive. Coincidentally, it’s also an amalgamation of the two founders’ names: Emmanuel Nkuranga and Innocent Nkurunziza (Inn-Emma …). They are siblings and self-taught painters. 

They set up Inema as a place to spur creativity for personal, social, and economic growth. This came after they traveled to the United States for artist residencies and toured the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim in New York. Mr. Nkuranga believes in “creating a movement in the city for those who don’t have an awareness of art.”

Their impetus for coming up with Inema is echoed throughout the downstairs portion of the gallery, with Emmanuel’s and Innocent’s grand works of art filling it up; with accompanying stories and thoughts from them, and of their art and from what inspires it.

As I go through the artwork hanging on the walls, warm, dark and light tunes of jazz fill up the air around me. There must be hidden speakers somewhere, I think to myself. The volume is just right, not too loud to distract you from the mix of colours on canvas in front of you and not too soft to be drowned out by the drizzle outside. It’s largely silent, that calm before a storm; but in this case it’s possibly after a storm, seeing as it’s Friday and Thursday was just last night. 

Thursday nights at Inema are a scene of colourful revelry. Expatriates flock the space dressed in boho-chic outfits; ruffle floral skirts, ready to boogie. Dreadlocked gents in clean clothes, interesting shoes and a bottle of Mutzig in hand are littered everywhere. All this happens in the presence and prominence of the art on the walls; free for all to see.

Rwanda has very little art in schools and no professional or post-secondary art training. The visual arts aren’t yet a very valued thing in Rwandan society.

Aliyah, Manager at Inshuti Art Center

These are words I’d heard from a young lady, a manager at Inshuti back in Musanze. It rings true to Emma and Innocent who are striving to provide exposure to the country’s creative community through programs run at Inema like – Art with a Mission, Inema Dance Troupe and Nziza Artworks.

A repurposed motorbike on Inema’s yard.

Art with a Mission is a project started back in 2010. It aims to educate and engage disadvantaged youth in painting, helping them develop skills and an interest in art which might even see some of them leading the way in Rwanda’s future art scene. One can visit any Saturday between 2 and 4 pm to meet the children and see what masterpieces they’re creating.

Art Jam is intended for Kigali City dwellers and happens every last week of the month. It is to bring people together to share their creativity and use their imagination.

The Dance Troupe is dedicated to the children of Rwanda and has developed musical and artistic talent in over 40 kids from the Kacyiru area through a rigorous, positive and productive training program where they are taught Rwandan traditional dance moves. It takes place weekly on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

Inema also plays host to Nzina Artworks, which sees a group of Rwandan women with limited resources trained and then employed to sew, bead, and create; from custom kitenge pillow cases to jewellery to goat leather bags. Their work is displayed at Inema’s Nziza. Go in for art, leave with pillowcases! 

Each of Inema’s initiatives strive to produce opportunities for Rwanda’s underserved communities to learn to create and hopefully to develop livelihoods in the creative arts.

Pieces made from repurposed metal on Inema’s yard.

Recently Inema has housed a collective of 10 artists in residence.

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