The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Hakizimana Paints His Way to Fame and Money

Five years ago, Hakizimana, then aged 20, had no idea what career he would pursue in life. But a temporary job as a cashier at a tourist restaurant called Torero Café in Kigali came with a new obsession: visual art.

"A SINCERE ARTIST is not one who makes a faithful attempt to put on canvas what is in front of him, but one who tries to create something which is, in itself, a living thing," says William Dobell, an artist of international renown.

Watching the features on a wall painting dubbed "Early in the morning" by Augastin Hakizimana of Agasozi Art Centre in Musanze Town, Northern Province, the above quote begins to resound in one's mind. Hakizimana's painting creatively depicts life early in the morning in a Rwandan countryside setting: some people carrying hoes walking to their gardens, others riding bicycles en route to fetch water, and some grazing their cattle.

Five years ago, Hakizimana, then aged 20, had no idea what career he would pursue in life. But a temporary job as a cashier at a tourist restaurant called Torero Café in Kigali came with a new obsession: visual art.

It's here that he started admiring art pieces of already established artists displayed on the walls of the restaurant. He was inspired to give art a try. Hakizimana started with simple drawings and sketches on paper, which he took to established artists Innocent Nkurunziza and John Bosco Bakunzi of Ivuka and Uburanga art studios respectively, for advice.

Fortunately for him, the two artists were impressed by his work and subsequently took him on as a part-time artist. Five years later, Hakizimana had got the experience he needed to try it on his own. That's when he started the Agasozi Art Centre in Musanze Town.

With his own art studio, Hakizimana is happy that he can now pay his bills. And that's not all. The 25-year-old has also been able to pay school fees for his three siblings. Aside from that, art has also earned him recognition in society. For example, in September 2011, he exhibited his art pieces at the East African Art Exhibition in Daresalaam, Tanzania, as the sole representative of Rwanda.

And Hakizimana is not a stingy character; he gives back to society. For instance, every weekend he volunteers to teach children art under Enhancing Community Work and Inter-Cultural Exchange, an initiative of Red Rocks, a local travel agency based in Musanze. He also equips visiting tourists and expatriates with art skills.

"The opening of Agasozi Art Centre truly came as a blessing to us residents of Musanze. The free art lessons offered there have saved our children from idling around during holidays," says Evelyn Mukamana, whose 10-year-old son attends classes at Hakizimana's art studio.

Although the art industry in Rwanda is dogged by challenges like an extremely limited market, Hakizimana is still optimistic that over time Rwandans will start appreciating its importance, especially in enhancing livelihoods and cultural values.

Today, Hakizimana has only one thing to regret: having started art way too late. He says: "It hurts that for all those years I didn't know I was exceptionally talented in art. Perhaps my life should have been a lot more different had I discovered the talent in me much earlier. I therefore urge the government to introduce various skills-imparting subjects on the elementary school curriculum so as to help young people unlock their potential early enough."

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