Rwandan artist talks creativity


Editor’s note: Emmanuel Nkuranga’s birthplace and upbringing has been changed to accurately reflect the correct information.

For artist and activist Emmanuel Nkuranga, it’s all about giving second chances through art.

Nkuranga, who grew up in Uganda yet followed the 1994 Rwandan genocide, learned the importance of art at an early age. He established Inema Arts Centre in Rwanda to teach forms of art to women and orphaned children as a trade to bring income.

Julia Nagy / The State News

“As a self-taught artist, I thought that could be something I give back to the world,” Nkuranga said. “Living in a community where there’s no creative culture and (there are) regimes, art could be helpful to some people, especially children.”

The painter visited MSU’s campus this week to share his ideas with students in the College of Education and the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, or RCAH.

Laura Apol, a professor in the MSU College of Education, first met Nkuranga at a guesthouse in Rwanda. After a rushed visit to Inema Arts Centre on the way to the airport, she knew he had to come to MSU.

“He’s an embodiment of what a lot of the students in teaching and RCAH are trying to imagine for themselves,” Apol said. “He’s working with orphans and women who are learning to do sewing and providing materials and a location.”

Nkuranga hosted several events during his visit, such a painting session Tuesday and a discussion with students Wednesday. He also visited College of Education and RCAH classes periodically throughout the week.

RCAH senior Grace Pappalardo, a student in the senior seminar Nkuranga visited Thursday, said his work in Rwanda reflected the catharsis art can provide.

“RCAH is based on using arts literature and dance to express your stories,” Pappalardo said. “It’s really inspiring to see a nation experience a really terrible history and rise out of that. Art helps build people back together.”

Joni Starr, assistant professor of arts integration, allowed Nkuranga to visit one of her classes as well. She said his international experiences only can help expand her students’ learning process.

“For four years, a student’s life is doing what someone asks them to do,” Starr said. “Students have to step outside their lives and outside of their realm of experience, so anything that gives insight and perspective to a different culture and life, anything that opens hearts and minds, makes us better people.”

With both his work in Rwanda and his visits to the United States, Nkuranga said his goal is to make art accessible to everyone.

“People think art is something that’s very difficult,” he said. “I try to eliminate the fear that gets into people’s minds, get them to come and interact with me and enjoy the journey.”

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