Ivuka’s founder is the artist Collin Sekajugo, who was born in Uganda and raised in Kenya, and has made community activism his forte. Ivuka is like a starting point for most artists in Rwanda, sort of like Kenya’s Kuona Trust. For instance, the founders of the Inema Arts Centre, Bwiza Arts Kigali, Abien Arts Centre (who gave me a brief tour of his gallery soon after) and Uburanga Arts began their artistic careers at Ivuka, and have gone on to set up their own galleries and art centres in Kigali, owing a debt of gratitude to Ivuka for Sekajugo’s community activism that has blazed a trail.
Ivuka is located along one of the few non-tarmacked roads in Kigali. It’s a rainy day and I walk towards it from The Inema Art Centre where I’d been before noon. Maps navigates me through the few turns I have to take. I stop over to buy an apple from a fruit stand by the side of this formerly-dusty road descending to Ivuka. It’s green and bitter, stings the insides of my cleft. I like that stinging; powerful albeit momentary.
The entrance to Ivuka can’t be missed. The name “IVUKA” is spelt out with wires, recycled bottles and dyed glass, in such an inspiring balance of colour. It prompts one to stop and marvel at the product of a process that must have been quite taxing. The gallery is built along a steep hill slope, requiring one to descend a flight of very steep stairs.
As if in an effort to distract from the descent, sculptures adorn the side of the stairway wall; a broken record with what seem like rodent bites, half a man’s body in motion (Johnny walking…), eerie faces made from newspaper cut-outs, a wireframe heart that stands four feet high, which was once adorned with pink condom packets in celebration of Valentine’s and Aids day in 2016.
I meet one of the resident artists after my interesting descent, his name, Jean Marie Vinney. With unfailing good grace and politeness that I have grown accustomed to during my stay in Rwanda, he gives himself to showing me around the quaint gallery. He signs off his work as Munezero meaning happiness, and I happen to see a lot of Munezero signed pieces hang on the wall and stacked at the back.
There’s a freedom of expression within these art centres I’ve been visiting, that seems a comparatively rare commodity in Rwanda where conformity, discipline and regimen seem to be highly prized by the administration. The impression given by the Ivuka Arts Centre is one of a youthful, unbridled celebration of creativity, and a yearning of the young people who are involved with it to break free of the almost automatic association of their country with the genocide of 26 years ago. For the visitor to Kigali, the Arts Centers make a welcome counterpoint to the atmosphere of Kigali’s major tourist draw – the Genocide Memorial Centre.
It starts to rain again as I make my way up the unforgettable flight of stairs.