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Rwanda Honors Their Tradition With The Resurgence Of Imigongo Art

By Kelsey Marie

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The bold, geometric style of imigongo art is found in huts located in the traditional villages of Rwanda. It can also now be found in the lobbies of boutique hotels, fashion design shops and artists’ studios across the capital city of Kigali.

What’s most impressive about imigongo art is its process using cow’s dung. Incorporating natural dyes and pure artistry, the cow dung is transformed into a remarkable art form.

Imigongo art almost disappeared during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide but 25 years later, it’s making its way back on the art scene.

The Process

Imigongo art is traditionally found in huts but is now being displayed as smaller-scale artworks. Although on a smaller scale, the process remains the same.

The artist starts with a wooden base plate (ranging from a tiny frame to largely-sized wall mural). The wooden plate is then divided equally using banana fibers which help the finished product to be proportional.

Geometric patterns such as zigzags, spirals, diamonds, and squares are sketched on the plate using charcoal. Fresh cow dung is then used with ash to kill bacteria and smell. The cow dung is applied by the artists who trace the pattern with their fingers to create a raised texture.

The finished product takes about a day to dry and is then sanded and a base coat of ochre is applied.

When the work is fully dried, designs are painted by the artist using traditional colors of white, red, yellow and black.

Traditional Background

For centuries, owning a cow in Rwanda meant you were wealthy and of an upper class. Local beliefs reveal that art using cow dung was invented by King Kakra in the late 18th or early 19th century.

The king would mix cow dung with ash and clay and decorate the walls of his hut with the paste. He began teaching the local women the art form and it was then passed on through generations.

The Resurgence

It has been 25 years post-genocide which, at the time, divided the nation of Rwanda.

Today, the capital of Kigali is one of the cleanest cities in the world and has a special vibe which indicates the nation’s resurgence.

Imigongo art is found in design ships and studios located in Kigali. The art form is traditionally done by female artists but is now also attracting male artists.

To find the true essence of imigongo art, drive 90-minutes from Kigali to Kayonza and visit the Imigongo Art Center and craft coffee shop.

Imigongo is more than just another art form, its a way for Rwanda to honor their history while moving forward to brighter days.

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Kelsey Marie

Kelsey-Marie is an NYC girl who currently lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. You can keep up with her on Instagram at @kelseydashmarie

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