Socially engaged art in Rwanda: A case study of the Inema Art Center in Kigali

University essay from Malmö högskola/Kultur och samhälle

Abstract: The degree project explores how artists can contribute to social change processes in the contemporary Rwandan context. The general aim is to put light on the new Rwandan art scene and the actors involved in it. The study searches to understand how these artists perceive their role as actors for social change and the possibilities of art in Rwanda today. The Inema Art Center in the Rwandan capital Kigali serves as a case study for this purpose. The study is guided by the following two key research questions: 1. How does the Inema Art Center perceive its role as an actor for social change in contemporary Rwanda? 2. How does the Inema Art Center use art to fuel development? In order to respond to these questions, the study applies a combination of methodological approaches. The primary approach includes the conduction of interviews with six artists at the Inema Art Center. The interviews are analyzed from a critical discursive perspective. The narratives from the artists reveal how the artists talk about art and see their role as actors for social change. This approach focus is on language use as an indicator of social change. The secondary approach comprises the conduction of a visual analysis of the Inema Art Center’s promotion video. The video is analyzed from a mainstream semiotic perspective. The aim of this approach is to conduct a detailed analysis of the meanings the video is communicating in relation to art and social change. Whereas the first approach explores the personal and individual perspectives of the art activities at Inema, the second approach explores rather the institutional perspective, i.e. how Inema through social media presents itself to the public. The main conclusions of the study can be summarized as follows: Inema uses art to improve livelihood at different levels: individual, family, community and national. Inema is a homegrown initiative addressing development issues, but has not the ambition to become a subversive political movement. Hence, Inema refrains from addressing politically sensitive issues and prefers to remain in the politically accepted ―comfort zone‖. My research suggests however that artists such as at Inema are forerunners of the creation of a new innovative cultural discourse that is changing the cultural landscape in contemporary Rwanda. Inema sees its role in educating people allowing them to see things differently. Inema’s mission is to communicate the role and potential of art as an income generating activity to the community, but also as a contributor to the productive means to the wider Rwandan society. This is how artists can contribute to social change processes in contemporary Rwanda and help building up the country.

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