Arts & Entertainment Editor
Olivier Mbabazi (C’22) is a budding artist from Kigali, Rwanda. Specializing in an interdisciplinary approach to numerous art forms, such as painting, sculpture, video, and sounds, Mbabazi walks us through his inspiration for becoming an artist and creating his work.
“I started making sketches when I was six years old,” Mbabazi says, “I would lock myself away in my room with a huge dictionary that had images of Picasso, Jean-Michel Basquait, and other past and contemporary artists, and I would make copies of these works. That was my first encounter with the idea of art. So growing up I wanted to take this path.”
For Mbabazi, the road to get to where he is today was not a smooth one. Growing up in Rwanda, he attended the only art high school in the country, an opportunity he labels as a privilege that he is grateful for. He says, “After high school, in my country, we don’t have an art university so getting into a liberal arts school in the United States was the biggest challenge I faced.” He made it to Sewanee and hasn’t looked back since.
He describes himself as an interdisciplinary artist, specializing in painting, video, sculpture, moving image, and sound. He says, “My art through the intersectionality of my chosen art forms focuses on an intersectionality of media and identity, the fluidity of culture, and the idea that everything is somehow related to each other.” Memory of trauma and reconciliation are prominent themes in his artworks. He says, “These two themes lead to the idea of intersection which is very central to my work. Part of what I do is to bend, break, and reconcile boundaries, and then put them back together.”
Mbabazi comments on his favorite piece, a sculpture called Ibiti. It is made out of steel and at 196 cm tall, is one of his largest works ever. What excites Mbabazi about this piece is the confluence of art forms and how it occupies space. He says, “It enables me to explore different ethnic, geographic, and political identities, and I really like it because it helps me to reflect on those things.”
He explains the process of creating his art pieces, “To start a painting or sculpture or video, I have to conceive it first.” He takes his time with his pieces, carefully planning them before execution. “I make sketches, plan it, and then get it done. But that is flexible as well as sometimes I am working and an idea pops up and I go in the direction of the idea,” he says.
The art faculty at Sewanee have had a huge influence on Mbabazi’s artistic skill and creative growth. He says, “I thank the art faculty here a lot, especially Professors Greg Pond, Jessica Wohl, and Pradip Malde. They trained me to think about what I do, push my technical skills, and put it all in a cultural context.”
Mbabazi aims to convey to other artists three pieces of advice his experiences have taught him. He says, “First, just make work. Keep making. Secondly, use the resources you have, such as the art buildings, materials, and free space. Lastly, reach out to professors.”
After college, Mbabazi plans to attend graduate school to get his MFA while continuing to produce and compile an interdisciplinary body of art. He says, “I want to become a successful artist. One who makes work that makes people reflect and think.”You can contact Mbabazi through email firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be reached through his website at www.oliviermbabazi.com or on instagram at @olivier_mbazazi.