Check Out the Gorgeous (and Legal) Street Art of Kigali
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it’s just too moving and memorable to be called graffiti.
“There’s art all over the city. Where do you want to go?” asks Judith Kaine, the founder of Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga, a social enterprise based in Kigali and focused on the creation of meaningful street art. We walk out of her office and into the buzzing Kimihurura neighborhood and plot out our next few hours before visiting Kigali’s Kiyovu, Nyamirambo and Kimisagara neighborhoods for a tour of the city’s finest street art.
… bringing art to the people and taking it out of the gallery is what it’s all about.
When travelers think of Rwanda, what often comes to mind are endangered mountain gorillas, volcanic vistas and the 1994 genocide. Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga, along with Rwanda’s vibrant creative sector, is working to complicate that narrative. Since its founding in 2013, this arts-focused organization has painted — with government approval — murals that often contain social messages with regards to environmentalism, feminism, the fight against HIV-related stigma, the resilience of refugees, the protection of cultural heritage and more. The vibrant murals are varied, characterized best by the consistent use of bright colors, portraits and geometric shapes, but change project to project based on different artistic collaborations.
“I wouldn’t necessarily call what we do graffiti,” notes Kaine, crossing a lively Nyamirambo street. “That generally indicates an illegality, and since we do this entirely with community and governmental cooperation and partnership, I’d just call it street art.” Their first project, titled the Positive Living Campaign, undertaken to address HIV-related stigma through art, was painted on government buildings and public spaces, including the Rwanda Biomedical Centre and several public bus parks.
Graffiti or not, Kurema has made its mark all over the city. Our art walk brings us to bowling alleys, coworking spaces, hotel facades, schoolyards and public city walls. “This is one of my favorite pathways in Kigali,” Kaine smiles, pointing to a winding dirt road in Kimisagara while shaking hands with the headmaster of the school next door. For Kaine, bringing art to the people and taking it out of the gallery is what it’s all about.
Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga, translating from Kinyarwanda to mean “to create, to see, to learn,” uses colorful street art to promote community engagement. In addition to collaborating with dozens of visiting artists from all over the world, the group can include, at any given point, up to 20 participating Rwandan artists and members of the Rwandan public. A recent international collaboration brought ROA, one of Europe’s most famous and semi-anonymous artists, to the streets of Kigali as well as the Volcanoes National Park headquarters, where he painted large-scale indigenous black-and-white animals to promote animal conservation in the country.
Unfortunately, not all of Kurema’s art is embraced. Walking down the street in Nyamirambo, we notice a recent mural covered with red paint. “All street art has a shelf life,” sighs Kaine, “but that temporarily makes it all the more dynamic.” There isn’t much vandalism, she explains, but some of the projects have been painted over for a variety of reasons, such as changes in property ownership or paid advertisements.
At Maison de Jeunes, the Kimisagara Youth Center, we notice a large mural of a smiley face surrounded by positive social messages like “Say No to Drugs” that blends into the background. Students play soccer on the field next door, while athletes work out on the gym bars right in front of it.
“Just how it should be,” Kaine says.
GO there: Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga
- Directions: Kurema offers private and customizable tours taken from various location in Kigali, with meet-up locations organized beforehand. Kurema Arts Map.
- Cost: Depends on the number of people participating, but a group of six would be approximately $30 per person.
- Timing: Tours take place any day during the week, and tour lengths can vary from two to four hours.
- Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Leah Feiger, OZY Author Contact Leah Feiger