What Comes After

What Comes After

 “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.”

 Roald Dahl

There are some histories that cannot be forgotten but there are ways of remembering that heal the wounds of the past rather than inflict the old torments of time upon those who have suffered and long to suffer no more.

 Rwanda is one such place where the light that now shines from this tiny heart of Africa is often eclipsed by the dark history of genocide.

 And yet, emerging from the shadows of war is the story of artists in Rwanda. Theirs is a story of creation after destruction and of salvation after struggle. It is a story of hope lost and hope found, of life unraveled and life restrung. It is, after all, the story of art.  

 But to begin their story in the beginning is to reflect upon what was rather than what is. To begin at the end is to strip this story of its sweetness. Therefore this story must be told in its ripening, which is to say, somewhere in the middle.

 This is perhaps why artists work within mediums, in order to somehow resolve the age-old conflicts between light and darkness, life and death, beauty and ruins, past and present.

 Stripped of all that had once been these conflicts were made raw throughout and in the aftermath of the genocide. Sometimes words cannot express what has been lost and it is the visual artists of the world that must find new means of communicating all of the sorrows and all of the joys that they hold in their hearts. It is with cameras, canvases, paintbrushes, and photographs that the artists of Rwanda are able to express both their remembrance of the past and their hope for the future.

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 In a nation where 50% of the population is under the age of thirty it is no small wonder that many of the Rwandan youth are pursuing art. That few of them are as of yet, tricenarians makes this story all the more miraculous.

 Not all were present in Rwanda in 1994.

 Some lost their families. Their mothers. Their fathers. Their sisters. Their brothers.

 Some families remained intact, forever expanding to include cousins, nephews, and even those unrelated by blood.

 After new families were formed in orphanages and within the walls of art studios founded upon the profound beliefs that art can heal, that art can transform, and that art can bring salvation.

 In recent years the number of art studios has increased from one to many throughout the city of Kigali and as each studio continuously plants their roots and spreads their wings, they have become sanctuaries, a place to retreat from the outside world and explore the realm within.

 That these studios also serve as homes for many of these artists indicates the unbreakable bond between art and life; the two cannot be separated. 

 More recently these studios have grown to include community centers that provide a safe haven for children, drum and dance troupes that carry on the cultural traditions of Rwanda, and creative collaborations with the restaurants and hotels in Rwanda that reveals an infusion of art and living that not only delights the senses but overwhelms the heart.

 There is Inema Art Center, Ivuka Arts Studio, Uburanga Arts Studio, and Yego Art Studio, to name but a few. Their names, in succession, mean a blessing, rebirth, beauty and simply yes. All unique in their appearance and similar in their purpose, they are dedicated to the ferocious pursuit of art for the sake of art, for the sake of life, and for the sake of Rwanda.

 Walk into any of these studios in Kigali and you are greeted by a confluence of rhythm; heard over the speakers that emanate blues and jazz and seen across canvases that splay the kaleidoscopic colors of this country. There are the burnt sienna’s of the clay earth, the yellows of the African sun, blues like the shadows of twilight, and greens like the skins of unripened mangoes or the leaves of trees that know no other season but spring. And then there are the reds and oranges like the fires of passion that burn ever so brightly in the hearts of these young artists.

 These are the colors of hopes and dreams. These are the colors of Rwanda.  

 Tony Cyizanye, artist and owner or Yego Art Center reveals: “I paint in color so that the whole of Africa is not seen as darkness.” Standing in the presence of the vibrant works of art that are on display at all of these studios leaves no room for doubt that these Rwandan artists are intent on letting their lights shine.

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All of these artists speak of happiness as if it were commonplace. It is the happiness that swells up and spills forth from those that have the audacity to follow their dreams. But these dreams do not come easy for there are no art supply stores in Rwanda, just as there are no art schools. Here easels and frames are made from recycled wood, paints are acquired from countries outside of their own, and canvases are not always cotton or linen.

 Ambitious, autodidactic, and inspiring, these artists are the pioneers of a Rwandan culture that has been reshaped, reawakened, and reborn through art proving that although art may have yet to change the world in its entirety it has changed the lives of all of these artists in Rwanda and will no doubt influence generations of artists to come. 

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 Since the genocide, the metamorphosis that has occurred in Rwanda from a nation all but destroyed by war to a cultural destination serves as a reminder that it is not always demonstrations of humanitarianism, those acts that explore the question of what can you give to a people who have lost everything or have returned to a place that has lost everything, that enable a people to overcome even the most tragic of tragedies.

 It is the less demonstrative demonstrations of humanity, made by those courageous enough to seek out the answer to what people are able to give of themselves after they have lost everything, that is the true mark of the human spirit, for there are lessons to be learned from those who survive, those who persevere, and especially from those that stoke the embers of creation refusing to let the fires fade.

Eventually may we learn that from hate comes love, from war comes peace, and from art comes everything.

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