Most of these children are from underprivileged backgrounds, with most being orphans. When they meet, they learn about creative arts but Ihiriwe says he also uses this time to build healthy relations for the kids; to help them heal, restore their dignity and create hope for them.
He says, the kids I teach are in foster care, some were adopted, while others have experienced various forms of trauma (physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse).
His oeuvre comprises of paintings, illustrations, and a collection of works on paper such as, drawings, watercolours, collages, and altered photographs. While painting, he mostly uses acrylic paints, crayons, oil paints, and crayons.
Some of the childen during their drawing lessons.Photos: Courtesy
With his platform, he focuses on instiling confidence among these kids through offering them opportunities to express themselves in a Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children.
In addition to this, the artist uses his skill too to help children learn behavioural and social competence so that they can better navigate the social world they live in. He also finds a way to seek connection, create positive relationships and assist children to have fun, he says.
The children he supports are so far 15.
Ihirwe believes that when a child is provided with a safe and promising childhood with basic needs, and is imparted with the ability to express their feelings, it gives them a chance at a bright future.
Growing up around Gisimba Memorial Centre, a former orphanage, and now an after-school centre for disadvantaged children in Rwanda, the visual artist saw how the place gave hope to many kids who were in distress.
This, however, is what enabled him to learn how to express life from an artistic perspective. It is also how he developed passion to give back to the community as the orphanage did in the past.
“My parents were the founders of this orphanage. Growing up around this place instilled the passion in me to strive for children’s well-being. So, I do this by teaching art to the little ones from underprivileged families, through a program dubbed, “Gisimba Afterschool program Initiative.”
The artist during one of his painting sessions.
This specific program advocates for the role of arts in human life, such as art therapy which creates room for expressing one’s feelings.
His journey as an artist
Ihirwe recalls that when he was young, he could paint their house walls with pictures. His parents would get mad at him for creating a mess, however, as time went by, he realised he had a unique talent in art that he didn’t want to leave unnoticed.
Instead of staining the walls with paint, he resorted to using a paper and a crayon. Memories about this are still fresh as he recalls a particular experience- where he made a paint in primary school that left teachers and learners mesmerised.
At school, they had creative performance lessons in drawing. He remembers assisting his colleagues to draw art, a thing that enhanced their marks. At that point, he had no doubt about his skills.
In about an hour, he was done with the portrait, and when his mother took a glance at his work, she was amazed and called on everyone to have a look.
Their reactions and courage, was what kept pushing me further into this career, Ihirwe says.
He now owns an art studio known as, “Artlife Rwanda”.
Throughout this career, he prides in having been able to meet local and international artists through trainings, festivals, and exhibitions. On many occasions, he has also shared his experience and ideas.
His Nyamirambo-based studio is open with final artwork displayed. He uses some of the money he earns from his art pieces to access art materials for the children.
Cedrick Gisimba Ihirwe
The visual artist’s main challenge is the high prices for art materials; for example one bottle of acrylic paints goes for Rwf 32,500.
He has nonetheless endeavoured to expand his career and has since won art competitions such as the Northern Province competitions in 2013, he exhibited in and showcased his work at the Map of the new art exhibition in Italy, displayed his art in Hobe Rwanda festival a few years ago, and exhibited in ‘Kwita Izina’ in 2018, among others.
He also sells his art work in different countries such as England, US, France, and Australia.
His dream is to see parents change their mind set and stop obstructing their children from pursuing art.
“At times, some of the students I teach miss class and when I ask them why, they tell me that their parents told them not to attend. Rwandans have to change this mind-set that art isn’t a serious profession, because it pays off more than a number of many white-collar jobs.”