East Africa Art Biennale Kigali, Rwanda, 2018
Since the foundation of the Biennial in 2003 the exhibition took place in Tanzania. It is the first time that the exhibition has traveled through five African countries, with the largest part taking place in Dar es Salaam in three different locations. I was especially fascinated by the engage-ment of the organizers. The exhibition was prepared for months, sponsors were recruited, ven-ues had to be found, it would take contacts to prepare in each country, and a driver with a van to get the artwork across the country without customs troubles. Kiagho Kilonzo, the Executive Director of the East Africa Art Biennale Association, which organised the Biennale and his colleagues travelled through the East of Africa thousands of kilometers to realize the exhibition. The special character of the Biennale is that the exhibition is created for the local artists from the East African region.
A journey into the land of a thousand hills
My contribution to the East Africa Art Biennale was drawings made after traveling to southern Tanzania. The series "Along The New Road" is a collection of typical East African buildings that you can frequently see in rural regions. One of these is the area where the modernized road from Dar es Salaam to Moçambique is finally ready after a long construction period. Still in 2015 there was only a little ferry at the border river Ruyuma to cross for maximal one truck. The road raises hopes that intra-African trade will become increasingly possible. There are new opportunities for the economy. The innovations also bring disadvantages. Now people often live in little cottages or houses right on the street. They can not afford a move. The vibrations caused by the heavy trucks damage the simply built houses. The drawings thematic the African change like the old and often very beautiful buildings in Dar es Salaam from the colonial era have to make way for new skyscrapers, and also in the countryside too, the buildings that shaped the country disappear bit by bit.
Also in Rwanda I found special buildings. I was again and again impressed by the shops along the streets with their roofs supported by columns. The roofs provided with ventilation slots for air circulation and insulation often act as a second floor. At older buildings you can discover ornaments, you can find variations of columns, different capitals and staircase-like roof shapes that are sometimes colorful. Also the ventilation slots can be shaped individually. The main road Butares (Huye) of the university city of Rwanda seems like a movie backdrop. The shops built during the Belgian colonial period, some of them in the modernist style, are often empty. Even before the Second World War built, then certainly the largest hotel in the city, the Hotel Faucon sleeps a sleep.
I have seen landscapes in Rwanda, which I, as a painter, have long dreamed of and which are already to some extent found in my earlier pictures. To my astonishment, the landscape in the valleys and at the rivers often reminded me of Asian woodcuts and ink drawing. The farmers stand in the knee-deep water of their rice fields and the rivers are lined with countless bamboo bushes. I traveled by public bus, rode the motorbike taxi to remote areas and hiked. Rwanda is mostly a country with wide green hills with rectangular fields and scattered bushes and trees. The country is populous. In rural, remote areas you are accompanied by a crowd of curious and helpful children. When the busses rock along the winding roads and on mountain crests, breathtaking views open up into deep valleys and terraced fields stretching from the valley to the top of the hills. Every piece of land is used.
In the West of the country, on the border to Congo, there is Lake Kivu. The picked coasts and the many small islands remember a warped landscape. In the evening the sun goes down blood-red behind the mountains of East Congo. It's hard to imagine that this region is one of the darkest areas of our time. Since decades a relentless war is going on for gold, diamonds and coltan. I have visited the tea plantations of Gisakura in the South West of the country on the edge of the cloud forest Nyungwe, the only surviving mountain rain jungle in Central Africa. Although I have never been to this area before, the tea plantations were almost familiar to me because of the photographies by Sebastiano Salgados. Between the tea plantations you can find rests of the rain forest in which isolated groups of monkeys are to be found. The landscape appears most spectacular shortly after a rainstorm when the rainwater evaporates and fog rises. Probably you could spend weeks there and the landscape would always show a different face. The Nyungwe rain forest is the water source of Rwanda and at the same time the watershed of the region. Not only is there one of the Nile springs that David Livingstone has been looking for for so long, the Congo also has its source there. Hidden under giant ferns and the up to 90 meter high and 900 year old mahogany trees, springs spring, waterfalls gush and small streams wind.
I have remained in memory a meeting in the hills not far from Kibuye. There I met a family. They live on a tiny farm with two cattle, goats and some chickens. The farm is surrounded by fields on which different varieties of bananas, potatoes, manioc and beans grow. It is grown in the traditional floor cultivation. In the shadow of the banana trees, beans grow up on bamboo sticks and potatoes and cassava thrive in the soil. I was allowed to taste the crops in a delicious stew. Eaten, of course, with the hands.
A few miles away, in the North of the Kivu Lake at the border to Congo, there is the little village Nyundo. There you can find the only art school of the country. The school was founded in the 1950s by Belgian priests and was nationalized after the Independence. Painting, graphics, ce-ramics and sculpture is taught there. Until recently there was also a music department which is now in Muhanga. The school has a large campus on which the students live. If you climb the surrounding hills, you have in clear weather a wonderful view of the two volcanoes in the Con-go, Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo, located in the Virunga National Park.
In my short report I have especially mentioned the impressions that have influenced my works. After the Tansania pictures I will develop paintings and drawings from my journey to Rwanda. Ifa's exhibition funding was not only an opportunity for me to participate in the exhibition, but it was also a substantial promotion of my artistic work.
Klaus Hartmann, Berlin, March 2018
The stay in Rwanda has been supported by an exhibition funding from Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, ifa. The Biennale was on view in Tansania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. © Klaus Hartmann, ifa Institut