Copyright 2020 Maria Jones-Phillips
Spirit Bisangwa – Oil on canvas, 16×20 in., 2020.

After a fair amount of deliberation I set myself the task of completing this painting today. I had no real idea what I wanted to do with the background, except for three colours that I wanted to incorporate somehow – the colours of the modern flag of Rwanda.

I’ve also taken the liberty of giving this young man a name: Spirit Bisangwa, in lieu of not knowing his real name. The name Bisangwa in Kinyarwanda means, ‘I was found’. Originating as a found photograph of a young man sporting the Amasunzu hairstyle, circa 1934, as mentioned in my previous post.

Public Domain Image of a Rwandan Man with Amasunzu Hairstyle, c.1934.

As I painted today, I imagined this young man telling me his thoughts and aspirations for himself and his country, and so the abstract lines and patterns in the background reflect this. Fragments of a modern, peaceful Rwanda can be seen in the traditional red, white and black of the Imigongo art style typically crafted by Rwanda’s women from cow dung, ash and pigment, and regarded with high prestige. The pale blue and yellow of the modern Rwandan flag appear as if projected from the young man’s mouth in abstract but prescient sound-waves, the green portion of the flag too far ahead in the future and not yet formed, but barely visible grazing the edge of the canvas. The red background peeking through signifies Rwanda’s turbulent history, and a flag of unrest. It serves to contrast our subject and the abstract symbols and colours around him in a manner that is hopefully both arresting and thought provoking.

My arms and hands hurt from days of drafting sketches and preparing canvases, as well as painting. I have five more portraits in my queue. I’m going to be busy for a while to come. After all these years, I’m finally doing the art I always wanted to create. I’m not sure why I waited so long.

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