• Robert Kovacs | IOM Rwanda Communications Officer

Kigali, Rwanda – Nestled in the vibrant landscape of contemporary African art, lies Rwanda, a vibrant country teeming with creative young artists. Acknowledging the enormous potential of migration to inspire creativity, in December 2023 the International Organization for Migration (IOM) held an art exhibition in recognition of International Migrants Day (IMD). The exhibition featured artists from various backgrounds, who created works of art inspired by stories of migration.

Among those who put their works on display included Timothy Wandulu, a Ugandan born artist currently running his own art studio in Kigali. At 21 years old Timothy moved to Kigali to find inspiration and grow creatively as an artist.

Timothy proudly displays his art in his gallery in Kigali, Concept Arts Studios. ©IOM 2023/Robert Kovacs

“There's a lot that I've learned from here. I think if I had stayed in Uganda, I wouldn't have grown this much,” Timothy says. “The challenge of shifting environments gave me room to grow, to introspect and understand myself better. This slowly connected me to people that were interested in what I was doing.”

After living in Kigali for nine years, he began experimenting with different styles of art to help his work stand out. Having switched his nationality from Ugandan to Rwandan, in 2019 he started a new project called “Untold Stories,” inspired by the cross-border challenges and stories of migration.

Timothy’s work takes inspiration from family photographs and maps which are transferred onto canvas in layers. ©2023 Concepts Arts Studios

“As an artist with firsthand experience, I felt the responsibility to address this challenge in a creative way, in which I am continuously expanding as I develop impactful artworks that initiate dialogue.”

While Timothy drew on his own journey for inspiration, Emma Raissa looked to her mother.

The rolling hills and trail of migrants mirror the landscape in Rwanda, reflecting her mother’s journey. ©IOM 2023/Robert Kovacs

After hearing about the exhibition, Emma brainstormed ideas to draw upon. “I realized my mom was a migrant,” Emma explains. “She left her home in Musanze and migrated all the way to Uganda during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, then came back.”

“I got to actually sit with her, and she told me how the women and children were the most affected during the whole process.”

Leaving everything behind and having to move to somewhere else, without any certainty for the future, served as the main theme for her artwork. “I put all my emotions in it. I could feel what she was actually saying when I was creating the art piece,” Emma explains.

Sharing her mother’s story of strength has helped Emma develop a stronger understanding of the challenges faced by women and girls on the move, which is highlighted in her art.

Other artists looked inward, seeking to portray how migrants have impacted their lives.

Paul Mugisha lost both of his parents at an early age. His early years were spent living with other children at their aunties, before eventually being taken in by an orphanage founded by two migrants. “They moved from Rwanda to Uganda in the 1950’s, then came back after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi to help improve people’s lives,” Paul explained.

Growing up here, Paul learned to follow his heart and pursue his passions. “They taught us how to follow our dreams and have an impact in our communities,” says Paul. “I think that helped me a lot.”

When creating his art, Paul drew upon his interactions with the people surrounding him while growing up. “It's not just one thing, but it reminds me is the whole journey. Where we came from, where we're going and who helped us along the way.”

Paul’s art depicts a young boy who was resettled abroad to start new life. ©IOM 2023/Robert Kovacs

“When you look at the kid’s facial expression, you see how he's trying to embrace new life. The smile is both sad and happy because it looks like his life is going to change because of this new place.”

While these stories of inspiration may seem disconnected, they are all united with a common element. Through their artwork, these artists have demonstrated how migration is an act of courage, a source for innovation, and expression of freedom and hope.

Even though their work is not yet done, these artists are setting out to accomplish great things through their art. Emma wants to use her art to give a platform for other women. “I'm very happy to be in this position, because I get to be a voice for other women and inspire them to also stand up and show the world what they got.” For Timothy, art is a way to educate people about what is really happening. “My main focus for art is to act as a tool of education, that exposes people to what is happening globally,” he explains.

Lastly, artists want to use their art to inspire others. As Paul explains, “I want my art to create hope in people, and maybe also change humanity for the better.”

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