During July, Savage Mystic Gallery is holding an exhibition of paintings from the Niyo Art Center in Kigali, Rwanda. The show is titled African Contemporary, and the featured painters are Fred Mafigiri, Moses Izabiriaza, Bertrand Ishimwe, and Pacifique Niyonsenga, the founder and director of the Center. Both he and Bertrand are currently in Reno for the show, and I was able to meet up with them to ask a few questions.

Pacifique Niyonsenga from the Niyo Art Center in Rwanda and Savage Mystic Gallery director Pan Pantoja in Reno

What is the art scene in Rwanda like? And specifically, Kigali?

It’s grown. It’s big. It’s one of the big emerging industries in Rwanda, and as other industries are striving, so we are striving.

Tell me a little bit about Niyo Art Center. Is it primarily for kids, or for adults as well?
The Niyo Art Center is a place for artists and also for the community. It’s owned by a non-profit organization I started in 2012 that is there to help change the lives of children in the streets but also the whole community around us.

Do kids come to live, or do they just go there to make art?
No. They don’t live there. What we do, we provide space for them to do their creative work, which is paint, dance, drumming, music, and also we pay for their school fees. So they go to the normal schools and they attend their formal education. Then we do after school programs and weekend programs with them.

So what led you to found Niyo Art Center?
My personal story, the story of the country itself. My lifestyle as a child. I grew up in the streets of Rwanda with no resources, and I had in my mind, “as soon as I get a chance, I will provide chances for other people.” Art has been a huge part of my life and also led to my life being changed forever.

Pacifique Niyonsenga

What led up to your acquaintance with Savage Mystic Gallery, and what led up to this show?

Savage Mystic Art Gallery has been a friend of Niyo Art Center for a while, through the connection I have with the director, Pan Pantoja. … I’ve been doing several projects with him over the years, so when they opened the gallery, I became the first artist to do a solo show at the gallery. They love what I do. I love what they do. So we kept in contact.

How do you feel about showing in Reno?

We are excited to show our work to the people of America, and specifically to the people of Reno, so that they can have also an idea of the creative show, or uh, of the creative industry back home, but also the work that we do here, because it’s not only that we are here to show and sell art, we are also here to … help our community back home because 40 percent of the money we sell from the exhibition goes back into the community work we do, supporting 125 different kids from the poor areas of the country. … So, the artists I work with, they understand the vision. They support the mission. They also decided to dedicate their work to what we do. It’s a blessing to have him [Bertrand] to be part of the show! [Gestures to Bertrand.]

Hi Bertrand, tell me a little bit about your work.

Mostly my work is about the culture, African culture, Rwandan culture, very colorful paintings, exciting and for me it brings about joy, and that’s how I create. That’s what I work with in my art.

So, do you paint abstractly, or representationally, or both?

I do both. I have abstracts, and I do representation. It’s usually ideas about the community, about emotions.

African Contemporary, a group exhibition by artists from the Niyo Art Center in Kigali, Rwanda, is on view at Savage Mystic Gallery in Reno through July 31, with a reception on July 21 from 6-9 pm. The reception will feature traditional Rwandan music and dancing, a discussion on Rwandan culture and the arts by Pacifique Niyonsenga, and a spotlight on the art from many prominent artists from Rwanda. 

Photos courtesy of Pan Pantoja

Posted by Miles Hall

Miles Hall is a painter. He has taught art and art history since 2013, first on the East Coast and now at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno. He has a BFA and an MFA in studio art, and an MA in modern and contemporary art history, theory, and criticism.