Interview – Judith Kaine of Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga

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group of artists after day of painting

Group of artists after day of painting

In this article,  Hai Afrika had the honour to interview Judith Kaine, Founder and Creative Director of Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga to understand how art can work as a catalyst to bridge, not just people together but to also create a form of identity within Rwanda itself.

What is Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga?
Art once created creates; it makes generations open their eyes and see and envision reality even before its real; it makes learning not only beautiful, but leaves strong and rooted impressions for posterity to come. Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga (translated: To Create, To See, To Learn) is an expression-focused, public-art project using visual and street arts to address HIV-related stigma in Rwanda. It brings together contemporary Rwandese artists and community-stakeholders addressing issues of HIV and AIDS. “We are working to develop a better understanding of what “living positively” means in Rwanda, and using visual and public arts as tools for sharing stories, building relationships, and transforming opinions, ideas and mind-sets,” Kaine tells us.

Inspiration on starting Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga
Judith had always been interested in the arts although not as an artist herself. In university, she began looking at ways to use art to create social change working with refugees who had moved to the United States. Later, she managed to travel to northern Uganda to lead art-related activities with young people in refugee and IDP camps, before doing the same with youth in South Sudan. Upon the completion of her Master’s studies (in International Affairs and Public Health), she followed opportunities to work with the Government of Sierra Leone and focused on health system strengthening through new technology. Similar work brought her to Rwanda. After half a year there, through a chance encounter, she met some artists from Ivuka Arts Kigali and was intrigued by their passion: she had seen hardly any visual art in Rwanda therefore it was something new and exciting for her. She had found a lot of performing art like song and dance, as well as craft and commercial arts, but had not really seen much fine art, let alone public art. As she met more visual artists and came to understand what they were doing, she found the whole experience inspiring and wanted to bring that inspiration to others.

The Beginning of a Great Project
Judith soon quit her job and with the inspiration from the artists she met, she decided to put her thoughts and ideas to work – she wanted to use art to address social issues and bring about positive social change in Rwanda. She talked to the artists of Ivuka about social and community issues they had seen and how art could gain its place as a strong medium to create changes around these issues. Together they explored different potential themes for their art project, but quickly realized that some social challenges, such as prostitution, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights, or youth unemployment, might be too complex and too controversial to address and explore visually or with the community’s support.

Ultimately they decided that the challenges related to HIV and AIDS would be a good area to focus on: though Rwanda has had many successes addressing the HIV epidemic at a clinical level – in that around 98% of health facilities offer voluntary testing and counselling services (see picture below) – there still remains a lot of stigma and misinformation on HIV in general. Kaine and the group of artists all agreed that the challenges of stigma and lack of information on “Positive Living” are not unique to Rwanda, but that together they could create messages through art that would be universally understood.

From there, a network of creative partners started working on this project, including 15 of Ivuka’s artists-in-residence. Among the group of men and women in their 20s and 30s, many are self-taught artists; most dedicate their lives to art-making on a full time basis, with some taking second jobs to make ends meet.

As the first community arts centre in the country, Ivuka has been a breeding ground of creativity and inspiration for many: most of the painters and sculptors in the country have started their artistic careers within its studio spaces before branching out into other collaborations or starting something on their own. Ivuka, which translates to ‘rebirth’ in the local language of Kinyarwanda, has been responsible for developing much of the Rwandese art scene in general, making it the perfect organization to introduce ‘Street Art’ to the country and with which to start this unique project.

Kurema Management (Judith and Charles)

Kurema Management (Judith and Charles)


Artist and participant during pos. living workshop

Artist and participant during pos. living workshop

Arts in Action
Building on the existing talents for painting and sculpture among Ivuka artists, the Kurema initiative has focused on bringing new and different types of art works and styles to Rwanda, and bringing the arts to more people of Rwanda.

Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga has used workshops, exhibits, and lectures to train and engage hundreds of people in art-making and with health promotion messages, with audiences including health workers, HIV peer educators, young people affected by HIV, community volunteers, and members of the general public. Activities have ranged from public sculptures made of wrapped condoms, to wheat-pasting large portraits across a 4 story building as a reminder that there is no “face of AIDS.”

After creating the first ever large scale mural in the country, on the front of a Ministry of Health building, the group began an extensive mural campaign and now has created large pieces in every province in the country.

Likewise, the Kurema team recently organised a nation-wide HIV Awareness Poster Project, in which young people are creating ‘Positive Living’ posters in order to fight HIV and AIDS related stigma, before competing at a district level exhibition. Winners of the district competitions will join the national final competition in September. The finalist will have the chance to have his or her artwork distributed across the country.

With requests for new partnership with the Kurema project being received from different charitable organizations, UN bodies, and local businesses, it is clear that the project is taking root and exciting people.

This work is ultimately allowing the professional artists to excel and grow too. Many artists have moved from painting on small canvases to painting on 15 meter tall walls; some are teaching health workers about the value of arts, while others work with children to help explore the realities of living with HIV. Over the course of one year, Judith and this initiative have thus quite significantly opened a new opportunity for passionate artists to be visionaries and activists.

The different activities and works of art created through Kurema’s many projects, as well as the concept of street art for social change, have been empathetically supported by the government. When was the last time you heard of government and official authorities participating in the recognition of street art?!

This has been something very new in Rwanda. There are no existing role models to research upon, no sophisticated galleries or museums. Everyone just started from scratch.

A Global Summary
A lot of times Rwanda is categorized as a black and white place personified by the history of genocide. The Kurema initiative is using colour to do something to change the whole monochromatic picture and let people know that things are evolving and not as stagnant as one might think. Art does not have to be only a mere shift from one form versus another form. It can be used to communicate as a medium that amplifies the many voices telling so many different stories.

Through their range of projects and campaigns, the Kurema initiative is using social activism to build a stronger art presence in Rwanda, something that Rwanda can proudly say…

By Rwanda, for Rwanda

ART site – Antiretroviral treatment
PMTCT – Preventing Mother-to-child Transmission
VCT – Voluntary Counselling and Testing


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About Judith Klein
Judith Kaine is a public health and education specialist with a focus on project management, system strengthening and the use of creative arts for development. Her strategic planning and coordination abilities, analysis and research skills, and dynamic leadership style have shaped her interdisciplinary career as a social change maker. Her practical talents for organizing people and ideas, designing and delivering communications, and for innovating solutions have been honed through work in the public, private, and social sectors in the US, East and West Africa, and the Caribbean. She holds a Master of Public Health and a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University.

All diagrams and photographs courtesy of Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga