Jean Bosco Bakunzi, a 26 year old survivor and orphan of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, founded Uburanga Art Studio.
At the age of eight he survived the genocide, alongside his four siblings.
The five of them took refugee to a local orphanage where they were hidden and protected for over three months until the end of the genocide.
The next several years, of his life Bakunzi lived at Gisimba Orphanage. Seeking to overcome the agony and confusion of losing his family and the hatred for the people who took their lives, he sought healing by experimenting with crayons, pastels and whatever else he could find.
After school, he would lose himself for hours, painting out his emotions onto canvases of all forms without any guidance other than classic images of artists like Picasso and Marc Chagall.
Bakunzi decided to live his passion by setting up Uburanga Art Studio, in March 2010, which has grown to one of the leading art organization in Rwanda.
Uburanga Studio is named after the Kinyarwanda word for “beauty” with the mission “to heal people mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.”
Enclosing the property is a brick wall splashed with a sequence of colourful murals envisioning Rwanda’s bright future.
Already representing eleven other young visual artists, Uburanga is evolving into Rwanda’s leading incubator of artistic talent. In addition to training and connecting its artists to commercial markets, Bakunzi leads a number of projects in the community.
One such project involves weekly arts and crafts classes held for children living at the Gicumbi Orphanage and throughout the studio’s hillside neighbourhood.
The artists of Uburanga teach the children to make postcards and jewellery which are sold to tourists and admirers.
All of the proceeds are then reinvested into the program to purchase art supplies for the classes and to help the children pay for school fees, health care, and other living expenses.
Bakunzi’s eyes light up when he talks about his students: “With this project, we are able to help children deal with the traumas and challenges they have faced in their lives by inspiring them and helping develop their skills and creativity so that they can look to a brighter future.”
Bakunzi also encourages his young artists to seek inspiration through nature and Uburanga prides itself on environmentally sustainable artwork.
Across half of the property slopes a grassy hill brought to life by vibrant forms made of materials from the local landfill – a theme park of animated scrap metal and old auto parts.
A crane made of bottle caps spreads its wings to fly. Car tires labelled peace, love, dream, and life appear to bounce freely around the yard.
As Bakunzi continued to paint, his reputation grew. He quickly became a sought after resource for NGO’s and small businesses seeking graphic design work on signposts throughout the country.
He was not compensated for his work, however his new network provided a market for his colourful paintings and a means to further cultivate his skills and provide for his younger brothers and sisters.
Last week, one of Bakunzi’s dreams became a reality when he arrived in the US for the first time. He traveled up and down California’s coastline to showcase his paintings and tell the Uburanga story at pop-up art shows from San Francisco to Los Angeles and Orange County.
Every day, Uburanga Art Studio lives out its mission to heal people through beauty. In Rwanda, Uburanga inspires hope in the youth of Rwanda.
Now, the studio is reaching across continents and cultures to touch the hearts of people in America, Germany and Luxembourg.
“I hopes to someday pursue a college degree in graphic design, but wants to wait until he has paid off tuition for his youngest brother who himself is studying graphic design at a college in Nairobi, Kenya.”
He hopes to grow Uburanga into a multimedia art studio spanning multiple continents that seeks to inspire people toward reconciliation of past conflict and catalyze human connection across cultural and regional boundaries – all the while generating profit and embracing environmentally sustainability.
Bakunzi paintings became known for their fluidity, semi-abstract forms, unique textures, and diverse explosions of colour, often espousing themes of traditional Rwandan culture.