The Kigali-social enterprise using public art to debate social issues

A Kurema mural addressing the stigma of positive living and HIV/AIDS. Image: Sarine Arslanian.

Public art has an inherent civic purpose. Not only does it bring people and places closer, it can also invigorate a neighbourhood’s identity and activity. Recognising the arts’ potential to connect individuals to their localities, and to each other, many communities around the world have used the medium as an innovative communications tool.

So it is that a group of Rwandan artists are now using their work to re-shape the urban landscape of the capital, Kigali. Their participation in thriving public art projects is a reflection of the increased cultural awareness and growing civic engagement that can be seen throughout the country.

“Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga” – to create, to see, to learn – is a Kigali-based social enterprise, supporting such projects in Rwanda. By bringing together government and artists, public and private sectors, to create something of shared value, the group is successfully designing opportunities to bring arts to the streets, and engage more people in the arts in untraditional and unexpected places.

One of the murals addressing the stigma of positive living and HIV/AIDS. Image: Sarine Arslanian.

Kurema’s founder and director, Judith Kaine, has played a pivotal role in facilitating art in the public realm. In her work, positivity, flexibility and a can-do attitude are essential in getting things done – especially when confronted with complicated administrative processes which involve permitting agencies, different stakeholders, and limited funding sources.

The key to the social enterprise’s work is a participatory and collaborative approach: it involves local communities not only in the planning, but also the creation of the artwork. This brings the art closer to the people, makes them understand its messages better, and thus increases its potential as a vehicle for positive change. So far, Rwanda has seem a spate of new murals which promote reconciliation and address stigmas, such as the ones around HIV and AIDS, and positive living.

Isakari Umuhire, a contemporary Rwandan artist and muralist. Image: Sarine Arslanian.

Isakari Umuhire, a contemporary Rwandan artist who works with Kurema, admits sharing similar values with the public arts enterprise. “We both want to take the arts to the next level,” he says.

His fellow citizens do not know much about contemporary arts at present, he argues. “Instead of having the paintings stuck in galleries and studios that not many people visit, with Kurema’s support, we can bring our art to the public and raise awareness.”

Another mural referencing the AIDS stigma. Image: Sarine Arslanian.

The public art scene is relatively new in the country, Kaine says, and “because we are doing something new and unexpected, there is always going to be a challenge of matching supply with demand.”

Improving the quality of that supply is key – and Kurema is working hard to build increased demand for such a product, too “This translates into pushing the artist to go further and try to really inspire people to see that there is value in art being in your everyday life and public places,” Kaine says.

Bruce Niyonkuru,  a contemporary Rwandan artist and muralist posing in front of his work. Image: Sarine Arslanian.

There are many among this new generation of Rwandan artists who use their art as a vehicle for positive change, challenging conventional wisdom and trying to have a lasting impact on their communities. They are talented, ambitious, often self-taught, and ready to engage in international dialogues and cross cultural exchanges.

Kurema murals addressing the stigma of positive living and HIV/AIDS. Image: Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga.

Their art remains somewhat misunderstood; their market limited. But regardless of all this, Rwandan contemporary artists happily gather in Kigali’s busiest neighbourhoods to see their visions materialise. Their stunning murals embody the idea that public art with a strong message can help in sharing information of great importance in a creative way – all  the while adding vitality to the cty landscape.


Barnet council has decided a name for its new mainline station. Exciting!

Artist's impression of the new Brent Cross. Image: Hammerson.

I’ve ranted before about the horror of naming stations after the lines that they’re served by (screw you, City Thameslink). So, keeping things in perspective as ever, I’ve been quietly dreading the opening of the proposed new station in north London which has been going by the name of Brent Cross Thameslink.

I’ve been cheered, then, by the news that station wouldn’t be called that at all, but will instead go by the much better name Brent Cross West. It’s hardly the cancellation of Brexit, I’ll grant, but in 2017 I’ll take my relief wherever I can find it.

Some background on this. When the Brent Cross shopping centre opened besides the A406 North Circular Road in 1976, it was only the third large shopping mall to arrive in Britain, and the first in London. (The Elephant & Castle one was earlier, but smaller.) Four decades later, though, it’s decidedly titchy compared to newer, shinier malls such as those thrown up by Westfield – so for some years now, its owners, Hammerson, have wanted to extend the place.

That, through the vagaries of the planning process, got folded into a much bigger regeneration scheme, known as Brent Cross Cricklewood (because, basically, it extends that far). A new bigger shopping centre will be connected, via a green bridge over the A406, to another site to the south. There you’ll find a whole new town centre, 200 more shops, four parks, 4m square feet of offices space and 7,500 homes.

This is all obviously tremendously exciting, if you’re into shops and homes and offices and not into depressing, car-based industrial wastelands, which is what the area largely consists of at the moment.

The Brent Cross site. Image: Google.

One element of the new development is the new station, which’ll sit between Hendon and Cricklewood on the Thameslink route. New stations are almost as exciting as new shops/homes/offices, so on balance I'm pro.

What I’ve not been pro is the name. For a long time, the proposed station has been colloquially referred to as Brent Cross Thameslink, which annoys me for two reasons:

1) Route names make rubbish modifiers because what if the route name changes? And:

2) It’s confusing, because it’s nearly a mile from Brent Cross tube station. West Hampstead Thameslink (euch), by contrast, is right next to West Hampstead tube.

Various other names have been proposed for the station. In one newsletter, it was Brent Cross Parkway; on Wikipedia, it’s currently Brent Cross South, apparently through confusion about the name of the new town centre development.

This week, though, Barnet council quietly confirmed it’d be Brent Cross West:

Whilst the marketing and branding of BXS needs to be developed further, all parties agree that the station name should build upon the Brent Cross identity already established. Given the station is located to the west of Brent Cross, it is considered that the station should be named Brent Cross West. Network Rail have confirmed that this name is acceptable for operational purposes. Consequently, the Committee is asked to approve that the new station be named Brent Cross West.

Where the new station will appear on the map, marked by a silly red arrow. Image: TfL.

That will introduce another irritating anomaly to the map, giving the impression that the existing Brent Cross station is somehow more central than the new one, when in fact they’re either side of the development. And so:

Consideration has also been given as to whether to pursue a name change for the tube station from “Brent Cross” to “Brent Cross East”.

Which would sort of make sense, wouldn’t it? But alas:

However owing to the very high cost of changing maps and signage London-wide this is not currently being pursued.

This is probably for the best. Only a handful of tube stations have been renamed since 1950: the last was Shepherd’s Bush Market, which was until 2008 was simply Shepherd's Bush, despite being quite a long way from the Shepherd's Bush station on the Central line. That, to me, suggests that one of the two Bethnal Green stations might be a more plausible candidate for an early rename.

At any rate: it seems unlikely that TfL will be renaming its Brent Cross station to encourage more people to use the new national rail one any time soon. But at least it won’t be Brent Cross Thameslink.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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