Monday, October 21, 2013

Opening Reception of "GUZIKA (to heal):The Art of Rwandan Children" Exhibit

Everyone had gathered around to watch the pair of young women dancers. As they hooked and whirled like spinning tops on the art gallery-turned-dancefloor, their bright geometric dresses seemed to take on a life on their own. Periodically wiping sweat from their brows, several drummers seemed determined to compete with the dancers’ liveliness. The young women began dragging reluctant audience members onto the floor with them, and soon several dozen children and adults were bouncing to the drumbeat.
The band, CHIHAMBA, was there to kick off the opening of GUZIKA (to heal):The Art of Rwandan Children Exhibit at the McGuffey Art Center in downtown Charlottesville. It was one several exhibits of artwork made by Rwandan children and art workshops for Charlottesville children hosted by the Rwanda Arts Collaborative throughout the month of October 2013.
UNICEF estimates that some 100,000 orphans live in youth-headed households in Rwanda. Recognizing the need to support the mental and emotional health of vulnerable children in Rwanda and the general prosperity of children everywhere, including Charlottesville, the Rwanda Arts Collaborative was created earlier this year. Renee Balfour, director and founder of Art With A Mission Charlottesville and Emmanual Nkurazanga, director of Art with a Mission Rwanda, worked together this year to facilitate art workshops for over 125 Rwandan children. The children’s artwork is on display in the McGuffey Art Center, Nau Hall, and OpenGrounds. 

The artwork will be available for sale, with all proceeds returning to the youth-headed households that produced them.
As I walked around the exhibit after the crowds were gone, I found myself lingering at almost every painting. It was hard not to be taken in by the vibrant colors and thick brush strokes that were common denominator of all the artwork on display. There was a rawness to each picture that seemed to be best captured by a quote from a Rwandan child that had been framed alongside one of the paintings: “Art raises me.”
I think that as promoters of public health, it can be hard at times to remember that we are first and foremost advocates of complete well-being. When we say that we support the flourishing of children, we are saying that we want much more for them than simply safe housing, adequate nutrition and access to clean water. We want to provide children with a means for narrating the spirit of their lives. By allowing young people to creatively reinterpret their day-to-day experience, we can foster a greater understanding of what it means to be an active member of a community. When we talk about art raising our hearts and minds, we are really saying that art broadens our perspective. We can nourish children's imaginations--and our own--when we offer them an opportunity to express themselves.

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