On June 15, 2023, panelists at the French Institute of Burundi discussed ways to overcome the challenges that Burundian artists and creatives face when trying to gain recognition on the global stage. One thing is for sure: the challenges are much greater than you may think.
Yish Karamu, a visual artist, is well-acquainted with the challenges Burundian visual artists face. In a witty remark, Karamu spoke about a typical day in the life of a Burundian visual artist, stating that “60% of the day is spent lamenting about how to break through, pay the bills, and responding to people requests for free art. Another 30% is dedicated to creating art, the remaining 10% are for managing everyday life. How do you thrive in those conditions?” He asked.
And Karamu is not alone in his struggle. That is the reason why on June 15, 2023, Twofiveseven, a Burundian Exhibition and Seller House of Art, partnered the French Institute in Burundi, IFB to organize a conference debate on the challenges of Burundian visual art to break through on the global stage.
Several artists attended the debate, which had the theme “Burundian Visual Arts in the Global Market: Perspectives and Strategies.” The latter shared their difficulties in getting their work recognized internationally.
Samantha Inarukundo, the Twofiveseven arts Executive Director, spoke about her experience creating an art exhibition house in a country where art sells hardly. She emphasized the need for passion and devotion in driving one’s work as an artist, both locally and internationally.
Samantha emphasized as well the criticality of artists possessing the right attitude which implies integrity, and punctuality in order to succeed in their pursuits. She highlighted her personal experience saying, “Working with numerous visual artists has made me realize that their lack of commitment is one of the challenges they don’t thrive globally.”
“Don’t Put all the Blame on Artists”
Olègue Dave, a Burundian painter, is calling attention to a critical issue within the visual art industry: the lack of purchasing power in Burundi. Dave notes that blaming Burundian artists for their lack of success is unfair when the market simply does not allow for growth. With few art pieces being bought, breakthrough success becomes a near-impossible feat.
But it’s not just a matter of purchasing power. Dave also highlights the narrow view people have when it comes to art, focusing only on paintings while other forms of art are left behind. Dave passionately advocates for promoting other forms of art, such as pen drawing and drawing with uncommon materials like sugar, bread crumbs, and more.
The Secret to Expand Art From Local to Global Uncovered
Pointing out the fact that visual artists in Burundi are often undervalued compared to musicians and filmmakers. Yish Karamu suggested that if visual artists received the same amount of investment and attention, the creative economy in Burundi might have fewer starving artists as it is so far.
Amandine Sagnes, the Director of the French Institute of Burundi, expressed her view that the country’s visual art scene lacks products to export at an international level. This situation, according to her, is in contrast to other fields such as music and theatre. However, she believes that Burundian artists possess the will and competence to succeed on the global stage. Thus, Sagnes encourages artists to consider using the internet to promote their work, citing the increased visibility of African plastic art on the global stage.
Yvan de l’Art, another young artist also believes in the importance of using the internet to learn and gain inspiration from other artists. However, he emphasizes that this should not involve copying their work. Yvan believes as well that artists should stay up-to-date with current trends and what is popular in the art world for them to keep being relevant on the market, while also remaining true to their own unique style and vision. He suggests that artists should take advantage of opportunities to travel and learn from others, including those from different regions in Africa and around the world.