Arts View

  • Opens in a new tab
  • Opens in a new tab
  • Opens in a new tab
  • Opens in a new tab
  • Opens in a new tab

Sept 2022 – Nov 2022

Jemima Kakizi

Jemima Kakizi – Multidisciplinary Artist

Kigali, Rwanda

Jemima Kakizi is a multidisciplinary artist and certified lay counsellor whose artworks are an intersection of the semi abstract and abstract. She is interested in making art that addresses things people (especially women) go through in their daily lives, and attempts to shift the lens certain things are viewed in.

Her art is an invitation to engage in inner and/or outer discussion about subjects that are rarely talked about or are even considered taboo. She believes that her art not only plays a role in engaging community consciousness but also boosts women’s confidence and improves the overall social conditions of her community.

Having witnessed the lack of visibility for female artists in the Rwandan art scene and in a bid to find a solution, Jemima recently embarked on a journey of curating exhibitions with her first curatorial work being “At The Entrance” exhibition held from 12th to 26th February 2022 at Kigali Soul Gallery.

Jemima has worked with different NGOs and has featured in numerous exhibitions: Martin Luther King’s speech “I have a dream”, organized by the US Embassy, Rwanda in 2015, “Dans les yeux de l’artiste” with Inganzo and the French Embassy at Umubano Hotel, Kigali, Rwanda in 2018; “Each for equal” 2020 in Rwanda and ~far~Dar es Salaam,” Layers of agency” with Soul of nations, the US Embassy and Rwanda art Museum 2021, to name a few.. She is currently artist in residency at The University of Global Health Equity’s (UGHE) and series of Hamwe Festival titled “Stigma, Power and Hopes” that is focusing on mental health for older adults.

AGN; You studied marketing and are a certified lay counsellor. When and how did art and design come into the mix of things you do on a professional basis rather than as a hobby?

JK; I have always been a handy person. While at high-school I was lucky enough to meet 2 artists who let me visit them at their studios. They allowed me to observe, practice and provided me with guidance when I wanted to try things out. As my capabilities grew, things evolved over time to the extent that I started to operate on a professional basis.

AGN; You have been seeking to raise the visibility of female Rwandan artists. How is that going and what do you put the lack of visibility that you are seeking to address down to?

JK; Things are going well in terms of my activism. Globally there is a lack of visibility where female artists are concerned and not just in Rwanda. Women are of course involved in art everywhere, but often they are not very visible.

The scene is so male dominated here that many women feel put off. In addition, there are gatekeepers or even societal values that can make things difficult for women to practice art.

Women who are not confident about showing their art are finding it easier to make a start by getting involved with the movement I am part of while others are being inspired to do things independently as they can now see women such as ourselves doing art.

Title: Planted in fertile soil

AGN; What was life like for you growing up in Kigali?

JK; I had a very supportive upbringing in terms of my aspirations. Visual art wasn’t something highly prevalent here when I was growing up. It is still not common to find pieces in people’s home. This is something I have been challenging and asking why people don’t have works on display at home. Where people do display art, it tends to be from non Rwandan artists. Part of my efforts is to understand why people choose works by foreign artists so I can utilize this knowledge to make local art more accessible.

I am the last born in a family of seven. Some of my siblings were involved in music so when I expressed an interest in visual art it didn’t ruffle any feathers.

My mother has always been there for me and even when things didn’t go to plan she would respond in a way that gave me hope rather than dampened my spirits or made me feel uneasy or a source of embarrassment.

AGN; What can you tell us about the art scene in Rwanda?

JK; The scene is growing. When I started doing visual art it was not common to find Rwandans attending shows and exhibitions. These days that is no longer the case. Artists are being utilized where self-development is concerned. They are being engaged in schools to run workshops and so on.

Increasingly murals are becoming more common place whereby they are utilized for community engagement by different stakeholders e.g. artists, industry, government etc.

The number of artists is increasing and this is leading to more shows and community engagement which in turn creates an increased desire for more people to participate in the arts.

Title: Who cares


AGN; Part of your work focuses on taboos. Why are you drawn to this and what experiences from others have you had as a result of doing so?

JK; I want to start conversations that challenge norms and bring about positive change. There’s religion’s influence, our culture, intergenerational perspectives and other factors that contribute to a matter being considered taboo. For example discussing sex is taboo yet we have an increase in the number of teen pregnancies. I feel this can be addressed through dialogue and access to information. In order to find a solution we need to sit and find common ground.

I believe that art can be utilized as a vehicle to address issues and open things up for debate. I feel this can enhance and strengthen communities.

While growing up I would hear and see things in my community that I felt were not healthy. Many people now have access to the internet but not everything they read there is correct or can be applied to their own situation. Discussing these things locally is highly beneficial. This is why I address taboos.

Some things are hidden behind the firewall of cultural practices, however, not all cultural practices are appropriate for the modern age. Naturally the fact some issues are considered taboo throws up all sorts of challenges for anyone wishing to start a debate. Things can become even more tricky if the initiating person is a young woman. Let’s just say I have experienced a degree of resistance at times where it has been made clear my efforts are not welcome.

AGN; Would you say there are certain aspects that are unique to Rwandan art and therefore differentiate it from other countries in East Africa or the continent as a whole?

JK; I believe so. There are cultural icons, motifs, patterns and so on such as Amasunzu, Umukenyero, Agaseke which are uniquely Rwandan that some artists occasionally incorporate into their work.

AGN; What is the typical attitude to art that is not music or dance in nature amongst the general populace?

JK; Historically visual art did not have the same sort of profile as art forms like music and dance so participation where visual art is concerned is comparatively muted but that is changing as I alluded to earlier. However, poetry and theatre have always been of some significance in our culture and these things remain very popular.

That is not to say visual art has no significance in Rwandan culture. Imigongo is a form of visual art that Rwanda is known for and it is still considered to be important.

AGN; Is there a particular essence and/or set of principles that you would say signifies what you do through your work as an artist and designer?

JK; Love and healing are the overall pillars that my work rest on.

I address different things to improve the social condition in my community. The aim is to shift the lens through which certain things are viewed as well as to boost women’s confidence and mental health. Recently I took counselling courses because I wanted to improve my knowledge about mental health. My country has been through a lot. I choose to contribute to the healing process through the vehicle of art and design. 

Title: Not written in permanent ink

AGN; Who most inspires you from an artistic perspective and why?

JK; There are a number of female artists who I find inspirational such as Nike Okundaye. She owns one of the largest galleries in Nigeria. That she has been able to achieve this as a woman in an environment that is highly competitive and male dominated is something else. The message I take from her achievements is that if she can do it so can other women.

Collin Sekajugo is another person who I rate highly. He is a pioneer where the visual arts in Rwanda is concerned. He set up Ivuka Art Gallery; it has been pivotal in enabling numerous artists here to find their feet.

In terms of form and artistic output, there are no specific artists that I would point to. I find the work of so many artists inspirational in different ways.

AGN; What would you like to see happening within the Rwandan art scene that is yet to materialize and what are the challenges to achieving such an outcome?

JK; I would like to see investors being interested in art, institutions sponsoring art projects and much more support from the government. The challenge is that if decision makers don’t see or understand the power of art they are not going to invest or put funds into it.

I would also like to see Rwandan artists gaining more visibility internationally.

Title: I am the wine

AGN; Since you are involved with art and design on a professional basis do you have other things you like to do as hobbies?

JK; I enjoy reading, hiking and visiting new places/meeting new people. I love being out and about in nature. I also love going to restaurants to try out different types of food and drink.

AGN; Is there anything else you would like to add?

JK; I would like to call on art practitioners to always remember to invite female visual artists on board and provide opportunities that expose them to a wider audience. Also, I encourage women in the visual arts to make it a culture to support each other and take the lead and create methods for showcasing their work rather than waiting to be invited.

Inspired by the words of Maya Angelou “make every effort to change something you don’t like, if you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking, you might find a solution”. Having witnessed the lack of visibility of women in visual art and in a bid to find a solution, I recently embarked on a journey of curating exhibitions and I am co-founder of R.W.A Rwandanwomxnartists Collective.

We are committed to the advancement of women visual artists in Rwanda, to improve and increase visibility and to enhance the basis for mutual support.

Previous ‘Arts View’ interviews are available here; archive

© 2022 All rights reserved - Ri Iyovwaye on behalf of African Global Networks (AGN) - Sept 2022