Friday, May 28, 2010

An Artist You Should Know About

For Christmas this year, my husband bought me a beautiful peace of artwork by a local Rwandan artist. It is the only artwork hanging in our home and I love it. It is semi-abstract, which is different for me, but it depicts the beauty and grace of the people we came to work alongside. I hope you'll read more of Bosco's story and check out his work at

Jean Bosco Bakunzi (1985- ) Bosco, as the artist prefers to be known, was born at CHK Hospital in Kigali, Rwanda. He grew up in Kigali, attending two primary schools in the city. His father was Catholic and his mother Protestant, but he describes his father in a word as “modern”. This atmosphere undoubtedly allowed Bosco to develop freely as a child and laid the seeds for him later to become a self-trained artist.

When you first meet Bosco, he strikes you as an optimistic, carefree young man. However, his experiences in 1994, when both of his parents were killed, have sharpened his sense of justice and honed his desire to help others through his art. He lived in an orphanage for two years after the death of his parents. It was here that Bosco created craft projects with a volunteer from France as his first structured foray into the world of art. The Kigali native says that while at the orphanage he would use pen and pastels to make cartoons to express himself and his friends would follow his lead.

He continues to give art classes twice a week to the children who live at the same orphanage today. Bosco believes that creating art can heal one “emotionally, physically, and mentally”. He lives this every day as he uses art to help orphans deal with emotions and express themselves. Gisimba Memorial Center also gains from this young artist’s enthusiasm for children where he teaches arts and crafts to young people under a project called “Imena Art for Kids”. And one imagines that he also continues to experience healing through his own art.

After leaving the orphanage, Bosco attended two high schools in Butare, Rwanda. He was, however, drawn back to the city of his birth. In Kigali in 2004, Bosco started meeting professional artists. He began to talk to the artists around him about such things as mixing colors. He also began to absorb ideas and concepts from the world’s great artists such as Van Gogh and Picasso. After communing with Picasso’s great works both in books and on the Internet, he began to paint works in a palette similar to the Spanish artist’s blue period.

Bosco and some of his fellow artists founded “Uburanga” Arts Studio in Kimihurura, which takes its name from the Kinyarwanda word for “beauty”, and is a hotbed of fledgling young Rwandan artists. He also continues to develop his talents with his membership in Isoko Arts Rwanda, an association of Rwandan fine artists.

Bosco work takes a variety of forms: paint and mixed media. He describes his paintings as “realistic but abstract” as being about nature and people, “something with meaning”. Many of his paintings have a message about social justice for all, while others are about equality for women in particular.

One of his largest paintings, Women in the Market, shows women at the market with baskets and vegetables. He has beautifully abstracted their forms behind a grid of white lines he created by placing the canvas on the floor with strings stretched taught across it. Bosco also digs into his pigment with a comb, creating lyrical circles or even random scratches at times. The artist elevates the commonplace task of the women selling in the market to that of a noble act at the core of Rwandan society. The artist says “women are trying to be a noble” gender in Rwanda. He feels women and children still have not received the place that they deserve and he wants to communicate with them and inspire them.

His mixed media work can not help but make one think of the found objects of Duchamp or Man Ray. One of his most powerful works, Love and Hope, has two tires surrounded by swirls of different shades of green brushstrokes. The tires, utilitarian objects from every day life, here beautifully symbolize movement for the artist and for the viewer and the brushstrokes elegantly carry through with this idea. He said he was inspired to create this piece on a trip to Nairobi. He went with friends to talk about life and love.

Continuing in this Dada-esque style, Bosco creates amusing and whimsical portraits using pockets from pants for faces, and then cloth, bottle caps, nails, and wire for the details. Upon first glance, you notice the figure, and then with a second glance you notice the found objects used to make the form. When you realize you are looking at the pocket from someone’s old jeans in his work African Queen, (shown above) you almost laugh to yourself. They say the definition of humor is surprise or not finding what you expected.

That is true not only of Bosco’s work, but also of him as a person. If one simply read the details of his life, one might expect to find someone who is hardened against the world. Instead, one finds an artist who sees the good in the world and other people and wants to help amplify that through his art, his teaching, and his studio.

Valerie Ficklin, M.A.
Art Historian


Solo Exhibitions:

The Feelings, Kigali International Airport
My Dream, Heaven Restaurant

Group Exhibitions:

Saint Patrick’s Day Exhibition presented by the Irish Embassy of Uganda, Serena Hotel
Jazz Band for Peace: Celebrating Rwanda Commitment for Ending Violence Against Women and Children, Serena Hotel
East Africa Biennale (EASTFAB),Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Ivuka Arts Studio and Friends, United States Embassy, Kigali, Rwanda
Isoko Arts Rwanda Launching Exhibition, Laico Hotel Umubano

Bosco with Women in the Market, shot at his studio in Kimihurura in May 2010

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