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.


12 things we learned by reading every single National Rail timetable

Some departure boards, yesterday. Image: CC-BY-SA

A couple of weeks ago, someone on Twitter asked CityMetric’s editor about the longest possible UK train journey where the stations are all in progressive alphabetical order. Various people made suggestions, but I was intrigued as to what that definitive answer was. Helpfully, National Rail provides a 3,717 page document containing every single timetable in the country, so I got reading!

(Well, actually I let my computer read the raw data in a file provided by ATOC, the Association of Train Operating Companies. Apparently this ‘requires a good level of computer skills’, so I guess I can put that on my CV now.)

Here’s what I learned:

1) The record for stops in progressive alphabetical order within a single journey is: 10

The winner is the weekday 7.42am Arriva Trains Wales service from Bridgend to Aberdare, which stops at the following stations in sequence:

  • Barry, Barry Docks, Cadoxton, Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest

The second longest sequence possible – 8 – overlaps with this. It’s the 22:46pm from Cardiff Central to Treherbert, although at present it’s only scheduled to run from 9-12 April, so you’d better book now to avoid the rush. 

  • Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest, Trehafod

Not quite sure what you’ll actually be able to do when you get to Trehafod at half eleven. Maybe the Welsh Mining Experience at Rhondda Heritage Park could arrange a special late night event to celebrate.

Just one of the things that you probably won't be able to see in Trehafod. Image: Wikimedia/FruitMonkey.

There are 15 possible runs of 7 stations. They include:

  • Berwick Upon Tweed, Dunbar, Edinburgh, Haymarket, Inverkeithing, Kirkcaldy, Leuchars
  • Bidston, Birkenhead North, Birkenhead Park, Conway Park, Hamilton Square, James Street, Moorfields
  • Bedford, Flitwick, Harlington, Leagrave, Luton, St Albans City, St Pancras International

There is a chance for a bit of CONTROVERSY with the last one, as you could argue that the final station is actually called London St Pancras. But St Pancras International the ATOC data calls it, so if you disagree you should ring them up and shout very loudly about it, I bet they love it when stuff like that happens.

Alphabetical train journeys not exciting enough for you?

2) The longest sequence of stations with alliterative names: 5

There are two ways to do this:

  • Ladywell, Lewisham, London Bridge, London Waterloo (East), London Charing Cross – a sequence which is the end/beginning of a couple of routes in South East London.
  • Mills Hill, Moston, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road, Manchester Piccadilly – from the middle of the Leeds-Manchester Airport route.

There are 20 ways to get a sequence of 4, and 117 for a sequence of 3, but there are no train stations in the UK beginning with Z so shut up you at the back there.

3) The longest sequence of stations with names of increasing length: 7

Two of these:

  • York, Leeds, Batley, Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road
  • Lewes, Glynde, Berwick, Polegate, Eastbourne, Hampden Park, Pevensey & Westham

4) The greatest number of stations you can stop at without changing trains: 50

On a veeeeery slow service that calls at every stop between Crewe and Cardiff Central over the course of 6hr20. Faster, albeit less comprehensive, trains are available.

But if you’re looking for a really long journey, that’s got nothing on:

5) The longest journey you can take on a single National Rail service: 13 hours and 58 minutes.

A sleeper service that leaves Inverness at 7.17pm, and arrives at London Euston at 9.15am the next morning. Curiously, the ATOC data appears to claim that it stops at Wembley European Freight Operations Centre, though sadly the National Rail website makes no mention of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

6) The shortest journey you can take on a National Rail service without getting off en route: 2 minutes.

Starting at Wrexham Central, and taking you all the way to Wrexham General, this service is in place for a few days in the last week of March.

7) The shortest complete journey as the crow flies: 0 miles

Because the origin station is the same as the terminating station, i.e. the journey is on a loop.

8) The longest unbroken journey as the crow flies: 505 miles

Taking you all the way from Aberdeen to Penzance – although opportunities to make it have become rarer. The only direct service in the current timetable departs at 8.20am on Saturday 24 March. It stops at 46 stations and takes 13 hours 20 minutes. Thankfully, a trolley service is available.

9) The shortest station names on the network have just 3 letters

Ash, Ayr, Ely, Lee, Lye, Ore, Par, Rye, Wem, and Wye.

There’s also I.B.M., serving an industrial site formerly owned by the tech firm, but the ATOC data includes those full stops so it's not quite as short. Compute that, Deep Blue, you chess twat.

10) The longest station name has 33 letters excluding spaces

Okay, I cheated on this and Googled it – the ATOC data only has space for 26 characters. But for completeness’ sake: it’s Rhoose Cardiff International Airport, with 33 letters.

No, I’m not counting that other, more infamous Welsh one, because it’s listed in the database as Llanfairpwll, which is what it is actually called.


This sign is a lie. Image: Cyberinsekt.

11) The highest platform number on the National Rail network is 22

Well, the highest platform number at which anything is currently scheduled to stop at, at least.

12) if yoU gAze lOng into an abYss the abySs alSo gazEs into yOu

Image: author's own.

“For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved”, said Thomas.

Ed Jefferson works for the internet and tweets as @edjeff.

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