Jemima Kakizi Akimanizanye’s transformational work adds to Rwanda’s aesthetic appeal while also addressing the country’s adolescent population on the verge of revolution.
Rwanda, a little East African country, is famous for its undulating hills, beautiful valleys, and exquisite green landscapes.
Thanks to the work of interdisciplinary artist Jemima Kakizi Akimanizanye, there is now art to compliment the country’s extraordinary aesthetic attractiveness.
Akimanizanye was motivated to start her own adventure making a difference with the paintbrush after being hired by UNICEF Rwanda for a project to produce objects that assist young children to learn about climate change via painting.
Her work with UNICEF inspired her to think beyond her art, to utilise her skill to help address concerns in her society.
“When I was introduced to environment issues, and that there are things we can do to fight climate change, I saw a huge contribution that I could make, which is when I started art installations using plastic and waste,” says Akimanizanye while speaking to FORBES AFRICA.
The 30-year-old, who enjoys painting in the early morning hours, was intended for the art world. She used to make intriguing items out of whatever she could get her hands on when she was younger. These included handcrafted jewellery and apparel that she would subsequently sell to friends and relatives.
She attended an art school in Rwanda’s Western Province, three and a half hours away from her home in Kigali. She had always wanted to be an artist but had no idea where or how to begin.
She began by painting portraits of individuals, and after selling her first piece, she realised it might become her full-time job. Her work became well-known.
She now advocates for important problems and utilises art to do it.
“There are a lot of things still considered taboo in our society, like reproductive health, sexual harassment, gender-based violence, mental health and for our society to change, we need education as a new generation; children are exposed to the internet and they might come across the wrong information, that is why I use art to communicate about these things,” says Akimanizanye, addressing the country’s burgeoning youth population.
“I want to start these conversations because I want to see change in my community. Children will not come to you [when] you are not open to those conversations, which is why you see a lot of early pregnancies and sexual violence.”
Over the last several years, Akimanizanye has taken the lead in becoming the voice of female artists seeking equal prominence to their male colleagues.
Akimanizanye has been arranging exhibits to highlight art that addresses societal concerns. She has also gathered together female visual artists to develop a collaborative platform.
“We need to wake up, take up space and stop complaining, that is why I started creating exhibitions for female artists. Ever since, we are seeing a huge difference and the sales have increased. It was something I had thought of for years but was afraid to do, but now, I am happy I took that initiative.”
Quality materials for her work have also been difficult to obtain because they must be sourced from elsewhere.
Opportunities exist for investors in the expanding industry, however, because Rwanda only has one art school, Ecole d’Arts de Nyundo, located in the Northern Province’s Rubavu District.
The country’s creative industry has been developing. The Rwandan government’s ‘Made in Rwanda’ strategy has encouraged both the public and commercial sectors to support local artists and promote their goods in both domestic and international markets.
“You can heal through art, you can learn. A lot is happening and we shouldn’t be left behind,” says Akimanizanye. “Because I had people who supported me, I love supporting others and see them grow; it makes me happy and though we appreciate what has been done, we need more support to grow further.”
Main Image: Jemima Kakizi Akimanizanye’s transformational work/ Photo by Dushric/ Forbes Africa