Once upon a time in the Rwandan Province of Kibungo lived Prince Kakira; son of the King of Gisaka. The Prince was inspired to decorate and beautify the houses around him, using natural materials to paint decorative motifs directly on walls. The result was the beginning of an artistic legacy dating back to the 19th Century. Known as ‘Imigongo‘, striking black and white geometric patterns were created on the wall surfaces and complemented with shades of burgundy and ochre.
Today Kibungo is known as the Eastern Province and is where you will find a cooperative that bears the Prince’s name, which is continuing the tradition and techniques of producing the decorative geometric designs adapting the style to paintings on wooden slabs. The members of the Kakira Cooperative are women, many of whom are widows and the Imigongo paintings they create are widely known and sought after as unique Rwandan art pieces. The style reminds me of a simplified version of 1960’s Optic Art, without the crossed-eye inducing effect.
[Image credit: Imigongo Surface Relief Pattern Close-up – Atelier Rwanda]
The natural materials traditionally used include cow dung to create the distinctive surface relief patterns of the designs. The red colour comes from the soil, white from Kaolin a soft white clay, ochre also obtained from clay and the shiny black from the ashes of banana peels mixed with sap from the aloe plant and fruit of the solanum aculeastrum, commonly known as the Soda or Poison Apple. However, the tradition is at risk from the increasing availability of industrial paints and materials that alter the look of the completed piece. These distinctive works of art lend themselves to a multitude of uses from; being hung in a frame as a painting, to being embedded into doors and stone features like fireplaces, placed as decorative borders along walls, encased in glass to form a tabletop, and even replacing the doors of an old cabinet/sideboard in need of a makeover.
…striking statements in black and white
For further information about Kakira and Imigongo paintings and to purchase visit: www.rwanda-art.com