Uwase on using art to empower women

Crista Uwase is a collage artist using paper from magazines as a medium to create meaningful art. Her artwork is mainly aimed at empowering women to address their challenges, including misrepresentation in the arts industry.

Crista Uwase is a collage artist using paper from magazines as a medium to create meaningful art. Her artwork is mainly aimed at empowering women to address their challenges, including misrepresentation in the arts industry. The 29-year-old had a chat with Women Today’s Sharon Kantengwa on what art means to her and how she is using it to change women’s lives.

collage piece ‘Umugore Wihenda Yitwa Bantazurusyo’

In a world where art is mistaken for ‘passing time’, what does it mean to you?

Art serves different purposes, but we should know that it is a form of expression. Art has been used as a therapeutic method to help people with depression and stress and is used to create awareness, bring people together and even educate them.

We are not creating art to pass time. If we think so then having a culture is passing time because art is an element of culture. Art can act as a tool for change that raises public awareness and inspires action in communities. It creates a platform to share stories, address issues, seek solutions and build the community. Both creativity and art play a big role in our culture.

What do you communicate mainly with your art?

My work focuses on women with the aim to empower and promote a positive self-conception and, address issues women face.

In the recent exhibition Ubugeni Bugema Umugani that I participated in which is about Kinyarwanda proverbs, I chose to work around proverbs that talked about women in a positive way. I found that they were few and most of the proverbs were negative, the woman is always a representation of a bad thing, a misfortune, being undesired or a curse.

How can women stand out in this male dominated field?

If women artists want to be recognised they must stay active, be willing to take risks and make difficult choices and decisions. I think women should start looking at themselves and stop listening to whatever negative comments are thrown at them. They should silence all the voices that affect their work and progress. Instead they should start believing in self-motivation. People will not stop criticising us but we must continue, maybe use this criticism to challenge ourselves.

We should challenge all kinds of gender stereotyping by engaging in intellectual pursuits and take opportunities to learn independently, so that we can shape our paths towards our goals.

It is so common to find that works of women artists are sold for a fraction the price of their male counterparts do because of the misconception that women cannot be on the same level as males. We must challenge this misconception. So it is up to women artists to change how they are viewed and their work. It is up to us to represent ourselves the way we want. We must put our efforts together if we want to be recognised.

While going about your work, what is the most important thing to you? The subject, the process or the final work?

I think all are important. One leads to the other. Have a theme, research about it, gain ideas and knowledge, engage in the thought process, then the creation process, which is giving form or life to an idea by making it visible and tangible.

In the era of the Internet, why do you choose to continue to work with galleries to showcase your art?

Even if you use the Internet to show your work, people will always want to see it physically and want to meet you. Physical work adds something to your visibility as an artist, especially women artists. People will not believe that you created the work you post on the Internet.

The Internet creates a wall that disconnects the artist from the community. I love seeing people looking at art, meditating, sharing ideas, opinions, meeting, and reconnecting, healing and establishing relationships. I know the same can be done over the Internet but galleries are a place to build communities.

Galleries are places for learning. I have seen several architecture students coming to galleries to collect data for their research. Both art and architecture are interrelated. Most schools in Rwanda do not have art in their school programmes or curriculum, galleries give a chance to people, especially children, to appreciate and learn about art.

If you would want to change anything about the quality of art in this country, what would it be?

First, people have to know that we are not making decorative art, it is not even applied arts. I think for these arts, their quality can be easily measured. Creative imagination and technical skill are important elements in the creation of artwork. I think artists have to explore more in order to produce great art.

Rwanda should invest in the visual arts too because we are still behind. We are a champion in almost everything but when it comes to fine art, we are behind. I wish to see Rwanda on the Africa art map. This can only be done if we have people who understand art, not those who are just looking for jobs and good positions.

(published by Sharon Kantengwa in The New Times on September 21, 2017)