Shemsa Neza – Visual illustrator on using art to drive social change

In 2016, Shemsa Neza, ventured into art, a talent she knew she had from a young age. Since then she has been using her talent to bring about social change. She had a chat with Sharon Kantengwa about her work and plans for her career.

How did you become a visual artist? Is there a particular experience that drove you to this choice?

Looking back to my journey as an artist, I like to think that I always had it in me. All I needed was that wake up call to realise that I can truly do it.

As a kid I grew up seeing my elder brother sketch in his notebooks, which I also liked to do in school, drawing for other kids in their notebooks, but as I became older, life caught up with me and I kind of diverted to other things. But deep down I kept admiring art, I visited art centres and galleries, searched the internet and my passion for art grew. The end of 2016 is when I got a pencil and a paper and sketched again. From then to date, I have never stopped.

Neza Shemsa – A Force, 2020 (80 x 70cm)

What was your first work of art that really mattered to you?

It is really hard to mention just one piece because every piece has its own story and they all matter. But to mention one, there is this art work I did in 2018 titled “Highs and Lows” that touched me in a way. In this life, we all have our highs and our lows and perhaps without the lows the highs can not be reached. What I find most important is to know how to balance these two, not to let the lows break you, and also remember where you came from when you are on your highs.

What medium of art are you into and which current art world trends are you following?

I use Acrylics on Canvas and my technique of painting is semi abstract art, I can’t say that there is a specific art trend that I follow, but recently, I have been researching contemporary African art and artists. To be clear, African art is not a trend, it has existed for centuries and it is still here, just that it is not represented enough in the mainstream media for the world to see.

What is your biggest motivator as an artist?

I can say that I am driven by passion, it is my biggest motivator. Without passion I don’t think I would be where I am today or even still be doing art because the journey is not always smooth. But with passion, determination, focus and time, it all works out.

You are participating in the on-going Women’s Art Exhibition, how are you using art to bring about social change?

I feel like this Women’s Art Exhibition came at the right time regardless of the pandemic and everything else that is happening all over the world. It came at the moment where the world is at its worst, and we as women are using our talents and art works to send out our messages, expressing our feelings and emotions revolving around injustices like the basic human rights — in some cultures they still believe girls’ education doesn’t matter, gender-based violence is at its peak, rape is still a big issue, inequalities in work spaces and everywhere else — all these and more that women are facing on a daily basis. But I believe that our voices are not in vain (voices of 36 Rwandan women artists) people are listening and change is about to come, all thanks to the women who participated and the Rwanda Art Museum that gave us space.

How do you navigate the art world?

I have been in this art world professionally since 2017. It wasn’t that easy since it is a world dominated by men, but I managed to find my way around with the help of some artists who were already familiar with what was happening around. Now I can say the art world is becoming more and more interesting, I have learnt a lot, I have met different kinds of people, I have built relationships and connections. All I can say is that I am grateful.

How do you envision your art career in a few years to come?

With the visibility women in art are getting today, plus the hard work I am putting in, I trust that the future is bright and I will be somewhere that I will be proud of.

(published by Sharon Kantengwa in The New Times on June 03, 2020)