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Rusagara eyes the future

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Rwanda abstract painter showcases social themes

The first cut, as it is said, is the deepest. And Benjamin Rusagara, a youthful visual resident artist at Ivuka Arts Center recalls his first contact with art-which later defined his career path, writes Joseph Ondiek,

“The bell for lunch break rung and there was a mass stampede from class to the dining hall. However, in the mass confusion, one of the students accidentally dropped his arts book full of cartoons and illustrations. I stayed behind, picked the book, saw and I convinced myself that I could also draw like what I had just seen,” he says.

From that art book, Rusagara says, he copied illustrations to his own book, from where he progressively honed the artistic skills that were to influence his career choice.

“Contact with a strange book full of amorphous illustrations and cartoons helped me immensely in choosing what I wanted to do with my life, that is, visual arts,” Rusagara says.

When The Independent visited him recently at Ivuka Arts Center, based in Kacyiru suburbs he was busy putting final touches to one of his works that majorly tackle social motifs.

His piece titled `Walking Side By Side’ touches on the once much vaunted African socialism, as fronted by post-independent statesmen like the late Tanzanian president Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.

“African culture brings together social, spiritual and moral cohesion and activities. There’s something unique in an African blood that always vibrates, that you should always be your brother’s keeper, unlike western life where individualism has taken over the heart and soul of humanity,” he says, ”When we are portraying arts, we portray our innate feeling; that basically is art imitating life.”

Another abstract piece titled `Celebrating Banana’ is just that; an informative, brilliant and prodigious piece of artwork that can find home a wall of any gallery in world. Banana here is not only portrayed as a source of food but also as a symbol of social cohesion.

It is normally presented during important social occasions like wedding ceremonies and is used in making traditional beers like Urwagwa(Rwanda) and Waragi (Uganda). The end product of the banana is that it’s nature’s gift for our social life, according to Rusagara.

The artist further explains that there are more uses of banana plant like stripping its bark to make banana paper that has several uses like making lampshades.

“We therefore should celebrate banana since it plays integral part in our lives and that’s why, through this art piece, I wanted to show how this `innocent’ plant is important to our daily lives.”

`Urban Citizenship’ is an abstract painting that clearly depicts Kigali’s urban life and landscape and its unique architecture.

“Why do we always build our houses on top of the other because of the hills while there is enough flat land we can construct our buildings,” muses the artist. “When nature decides to strike and we have earthquakes and landslides, it means we are going to lose our lives, with one building rolling over the other.”

The artist, who signs his name as Ben Wong Shi, is not only an abstract painter but he also deft is sculptures. I was thrilled when I saw his miniature sculpture, resting atop a wooden structure, of an athlete running towards future.

The installation piece is made of wires and aluminum sheets. He explains that the main message he wanted to bring with this installation piece is that “we should always forget our past and sprint towards the future.

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