Henry Munyaneza: A Christian Artist in Kigali

By

Henry Munyaneza is a 19 year-old Christian artist in Kigali, whose art is prolific and profound. Featured on Lion and Vine, Henry’s work is now attracting international attention.

Meeting Henry

I visited Henry’s small studio and gallery in Kigali, at Kacyiru KN 8, during a lunch break of GAFCON IV. I was immediately impressed by his illustration of Biblical scenes, with realist figures and impressionist backgrounds, rendered in bright acrylics on large canvasses.

Sponsored

Henry was both happy to give a tour of his work, and also reflective as he answered my questions. Henry worked as a graphic designer before becoming a painter, which explains the sense of balance in his compositions. As a painter, Henry is largely self-taught, relying on occasional classes and the insights of some artist friends. He likes to work in long stretches, typically from 4PM to 2AM, which also offers a kind of escape from the challenges of life. When illustrating a Biblical passage, he reads and reflects on the scripture, drawing upon previous experience as a youth ministry leader in his Rwandan Anglican Diocese.

Communion Collaboration

Henry’s series of Biblical paintings is a collaboration with Brandon Walsh, a church planter in New Hampshire at Great Bay Anglican Church. Brandon served as a missionary in Rwanda from 2014-2020, and upon returning to America saw an opportunity to support Rwandan art and Great Bay at the same time. So Great Bay regularly commissions new art from Henry, typically of the Sunday Gospel reading, and incorporates the art into the life of the church. Prints of Henry’s work are also made available on Lion & Vine, a small business that gives the artist 75% of its profits.

Both Henry and Brandon witness to the value of their collaboration. Sometimes Brandon will send specific notes of what he’d like to see in the art on a given passage. Henry credits these notes with challenging him to expand his creative engagement with classic art, as in his version of the Rublev Trinity below. Meanwhile, Brandon agrees that Henry’s artistic vision often provides a new way of looking at the Biblical passage.

A Rwandan Jesus

A notable feature of Henry’s art is the depiction of Jesus and other Biblical features as Rwandans. This comes through, not only in skin color, but also in hair style, clothing and setting.

The distinctively shaped hair style, so notable against the backdrop of the halo, is an old Rwandan style called Amasunzu. Moreover, Henry clothes his Biblical characters with bright Rwandan fabrics, which lends his art a similarity to classical iconography. And scenes often incorporate the hills and the agriculture of the Rwandan landscape. We see these features in Henry’s versions of the Transfiguration and the Last Supper, below.

The Grief of Genocide

I also asked Henry to show me some of his work outside of Biblical illustration, and he brought out of his studio a series of paintings depicting grief over the Rwandan genocide. Though these paintings are not sacred, in the sense of illustrating an explicitly Biblical or religious subject, they nevertheless carry a strong spiritual sensibility.

Henry captures the sense of loss and pain, but also of resilience and defiant hope, which characterizes both Christianity and the Rwandan recovery. As in many of his paintings, Henry communicates emotional experience through gesture and facial expressions.

Into the Harvest

My favorite painting at Henry’s studio was an illustration of Jesus’ teaching that the “harvest is plentiful” (Matthew 9:37). Not only does Jesus look Rwandan, he is also engaged in harvesting tea, a staple of Rwandan agriculture. Henry explained that his grandfather worked in the tea fields, and so Jesus in the tea fields showed both Jesus’s presence to his grandfather, and Jesus’ joy in the harvest of souls.

I thought the painting especially appropriate to our gathering at GAFCON IV. For while we came together to worship Christ, we go back to our homes throughout the world, as workers sent into the harvest. For it is as Jesus said:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37).

Published on

April 20, 2023

Author

Peter Johnston

The Ven. Dr. Peter Johnston is the Ministry President of Anglican Compass. He is a priest and archdeacon in the Anglican Diocese of All Nations and the rector of Trinity Lafayette. He lives with his wife, Carla, and their seven children near Lafayette, Louisiana.

View more from Peter Johnston

Comments

Please comment with both clarity and charity!

Subscribe to Comments
Notify of

2 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments