Artist Emmanuel Nkuranga is flying from his home in Kigali, Rwanda, but not in time for the opening reception of his solo show at Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens March 20 at 6 p.m. The self-taught artist’s painterly abstracts are a riot of color and energetic scrapes, plus a mix of textures and mediums. Think eyeglasses, marbles and computer guts.
While Nkuranga holds a degree in computer science, for his solo show “Analog Aerials” last September, he used discarded motherboards to create topographies and bird’s-eye landscapes of Rwanda and its capital city of Kigali. The aerials are wood, embellished with epoxy, resin, fiberglass and African fabric. “The process was really strange,” he says, “because some of the materials smelled and all this, but the most exciting thing was to get it done.”
Nkuranga has no problem getting things done, especially when it comes to making lives better through art. In 2012, he and his brother and fellow artist Innocent Nkurunziza co-founded the Inema Art Center in Kigali. “Inema means a blessing, a talent, a gift in Swahili,” he says. Their aim was to use art-making as a means of teaching life skills and ways to generate income. Ten artists at a time have residencies at the center, and their work is shown in the gallery. Poetry, music, DJs and storytellers all contribute their creativity to the center of contemporary art in Rwanda.
The brothers launched the Art With a Mission initiative to get orphaned kids off the street; they train and perform traditional Rwandan dance as well as make art, with proceeds from work sold going to school fees and other needs. Nkurunziza began a program to help women of limited means use their sewing and beading skills to create pieces that are sold in the center’s gift shop.
The mission to turn creativity into income has been a smashing success, with about 100 people making their livelihood through Inema’s plentiful endeavors.
In 2015, the government of Sweden hosted Nkuranga; he made art with refugees throughout the country. His work has been shown in Japan; Germany; Seattle; the Nike Graphic Studio in Portland, Oregon; Los Angeles; and New York. He has also been an artist in residence at several U.S. colleges.
Nkuranga, whose favorite artist is Basquiat, relishes being a self-taught artist for the freedom it gives him. He has an intense drive to create, to explore and to inspire his fellow artists and community. “It’s just the beginning,” he told CNN Africa. “We live in the moment. We’re always challenging ourselves. We wake up early and create; we [get to] sleep late. We’re always excited. We’re just getting started.”
As for the 1994 genocide in his country, the 31-year-old says, “In retrospect, from an artistic perspective, I was trying to imagine that moment; I see that as gray. Right now, we want to make sure everything is clean, vibrant with the usage of color. The neon. The exquisiteness.”
He couldn’t be more swept up in the art of forgiving, as he calls it. “We want the rest of the world to know Africa is beautiful. There’s craft, talent, resources, beauty beyond sickness and wars. There’s good people. There’s life. Yes. Life.”
“Open Casa: Emmanuel Nkuranga” at Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens, 415 Avenida Granada, San Clemente, (949) 498-2139; www.casaromantica.org. Opening reception, March 20, 6-8 p.m. Open Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Through April 15. Free with admission ($5).