Saturday, 26 May 2012

Hand Painted Kigali Sign Culture

In Kigali, it is not uncommon to see groups of women running in African fabric dresses with baskets of fruit on their heads. What are they running from? Cops. It is illegal to sell goods of any kind on the streets of Kigali without a proper vendor license, and the police crack down on this kind of activity as though it were drug trade. Even so, women risk arrest every day and walk for miles from their homes in the surrounding rural and poorer parts of Kigali with baskets of homegrown fruit and vegetables on their heads in order to sell their goods and make some kind of living. They often have babies strapped to their backs at the same time.

This kind of brave, do-it-yourself entrepreneurial spirit has fascinated Dorota and I since we came to Rwanda. Here, people have moxy, especially poor people. Day-to-day businesses, like corner shops, salons (usually spelled "saloon"), bars and minibuses are bursting with character and individual style. This can be seen directly in the dying art of hand-painted signs. Sadly, as digital printing combined with planned (and security guard protected) shopping centres are replacing the lively, hole-in-the-wall 'mom and pop' shops, I think the hand-painted sign culture's days are numbered here.

That being the case, I have been photographing these gems whenever I come across them. Of course the local population usually laugh and stare at me as I do so, but that is to be expected. I hope to come back from Kigali with enough shots to put together a fund-raising art book on this subject, but for now, here are some of the photographs I have collected so far (click on any picture to start a full window slide show):

In keeping with this independent spirit, we have come up with a new idea to improve the life of the boys at the center. We found a market near our house, where they make metal lockers from reclaimed sheet metal. Now that all the boys have their own beds, we have decided to fix the 60 or so existing wooden lockers on the ground floor (for the boys in the downstairs dorm) and order 52 new lockers with locks (for the boys in the upstairs dorm) from this market. When we were setting up the dorms last weekend we saw so many items hidden under mattresses and beds (clothes, notebooks, soap, toys, etc.) and it made us realize how important it is for every person to have a little bit of private space. We cannot give these boys their own rooms but these lockers will give each boy at the center a private space to keep things, plus some extra lockers for when new boys arrive.

Thank you to everyone who has donated to us, because we will be using your donations to fund this locker project. It is going to be pricey, so if anyone else wants to pitch in, please click the donate button (except for you guys out there who have already been too generous!!!). Each locker with padlocks will cost us about £7 or $10, so even if you can fund just one, it will mean the world to one boy at the center.

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