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Indigenous International: Green Architecture Project — Rwanda

The Soul of Nations Foundation is excited to further expand the art engagement facet of our mission through the Indigenous International: Green Architecture Project (GAP). Indigenous International is the umbrella program created through the Soul of Nations Foundation’s Indigenous Arts Expansion Initiative which is aimed to help connect Native American youth with boundary-pushing cultural and artistic experiences around the world. The Indigenous International Green Architecture Project presents the opportunity for three young Indigenous female artists/architects from the Americas to connect with up to 10 young Rwandan female artists/architects living in Kigali through a two- week cultural exchange that has virtual and in-person components and an artist residency that will result in one collaborative online and physical exhibition to be open to the public for four months in Kigali.
Traditional forms of Indigenous art and architecture have often been misrepresented in mainstream media and academia. The majority of Native Americans and African communities reside in rural areas where they oftentimes build and live in structures constructed with materials that have been obtained locally and are considered “green.” These structures are created through the use of architectural techniques that have been utilized for generations. Unfortunately, a myth exists that Native American and African vernacular architecture is substandard, temporary, and for the impoverished. Indigenous communities from the Americas and Africa are continuously striving for environmental stability. However, these communities are often met with natural and governmental challenges that have threatened the traditional value of vernacular and cultural practices for residential styles of architecture.
When thinking broadly of architecture, the masterpieces of the past inevitably come to mind; buildings constructed to withstand the passage of time, that have found an ally in age, cementing themselves in the history of humanity. According to aesthetic and practical architectural standards of urban society, traditional housing structures of Native American nations, in the southwestern region of the United States of America, utilize similar construction techniques of the Rwandese when analyzing wigwam nomadic housing structures from the Pueblos alongside the East African daub housing structures.
Many Native Americans and Rwandans reside in rural areas where buildings and living in structures are constructed with materials that have been obtained locally and are considered “green.” These structures were created through the use of architectural techniques that have been utilized for generations. Over the past decade, Rwandans have undertaken a massive development journey through the integration of green growth and climate resilience strategies. Traditional architecture in Rwanda is often considered “green,” due to a lack of financial resources for value-added products that are common in industrial country architecture. However, vernacular and green-based aesthetics do not negate sustainability or beauty. With the theme of “environmental stability”, the Green Architecture Project is an exploration that will help young Indigenous and African artists to conceptualize how their cultures and heritages intersect within the framework of a number of issues pertaining to the access of housing, urban planning, environmental policy, and traditional architectural representation in the popular imagination.
All artists involved in the project will be between the ages of 18-30. The artists will explore the culture, history, politics, and contemporary experience of Indigenous communities in the Americas and in Rwanda. This exploration will help the participants to conceptualize how their cultures intersect within the framework of a number of issues pertaining to access to affordable housing, urban planning, environmental policy, and traditional architectural representation in the popular imagination. The understanding of this phenomenon will be actualized through the collaborative art projects realized through an online and in-person exchange.
As a result of artist exchanges, there will be a physical and online exhibition that includes the display of proposals; elements of work that exemplifies essential qualities of architecture which include the modulation, richness, and materiality of surface; photographs, works on canvas, and one collaborative sculpture to reflect on how traditional forms of Indigenous domestic architecture have shaped community perspectives on the concept of “home;” and the orchestration and sequencing of movement, revealing the embodied power and beauty of contemporary vernacular architecture that is sourced from traditional techniques of Native American and Rwandan culture.

Indigenous International: Green Architecture Project — Rwanda

The overarching objectives of the Green Architecture Project include: (1) empowering marginalized youth and communities via creative and artistic expression, (2) furthering the understanding of Rwandan and Native American heritage; (3) creating an environment conducive to effective collaboration; (4) engaging in dialogue to gain a clearer understanding on what freedom and environmental stability look like while examining current setbacks; (5) utilizing culture as a vehicle to expand discourse; (6) strengthening an artistic and academic network among the participants; (7) examining historic challenges through a contemporary frame; and (8) encouraging personal growth and social awareness on a global scale.
Themes: environmental stability and indigenous futurism
Nanibah Chacon is the selected artist mentor and artist-activist from the United States that will be traveling to Rwanda to invest time, energy, and skills into the participants. Nanibah is a Diné and Chicana painter, muralist, art educator, architect, and political activist. She has had art installed at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, the ISEA International Arts and Technology Symposium, Old Town Lansing, and in the “Que Chola” Exhibition at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, among other venues.
The Rwanda Art Museum is the country’s only institution dedicated to contemporary art. Formerly the Presidential Palace Museum, this new museum displays contemporary artworks from Rwanda as well as abroad. The museum seeks to provide an insight into the originality of Rwandan creativity. Exploring the development of art from olden times to the modern-day, it considers how traditional and modern imaginations can blend and fuse. The museum director, Vivaldi Ngenzi, and curatorial staff are committed to program partners for the Green Architecture Project.
The U.S. Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda is a major partner for the Indigenous International: Green Architecture Project. The Indigenous International: Green Architecture Project coincides with the U.S. Embassy Kigali Public Affairs Section’s program priority to promote inclusive country-led development. The project also falls in alignment with the U.S. Embassy Kigali Public Affairs Section’s mission to support artistic and cultural workshops, joint performances and exhibitions, cultural heritage conservation and preservation programs, professional and academic exchanges and programs, and to promote opportunities for vulnerable populations including, girls and women.
The United States and the Republic of Rwanda enjoy a partnership that began in 1962, just after Rwandan independence. This Rwandan-American partnership is deeply rooted in the shared ideals of our two countries. The U.S. Embassy in Kigali works together with the Republic of Rwanda to strengthen the bilateral partnership by advancing the key goals of regional stability, shared economic prosperity, and expanding democracy, human rights, media freedom, and access to justice within the Republic of Rwanda.
Serving as an alumni organization for U.S.-sponsored exchange programs in North America, Europe, and East Africa, the Soul of Nations Foundation Team is highly qualified and eager to pursue this opportunity to expand the scope of our outreach in Rwanda through the Indigenous International: Green Architecture Project.
By connecting Native American communities with Rwandese communities for a culturally artistic exchange, participants will be presented with creative time and space to discuss and depict their viewpoints on Pan-Indigenous contemporary society and work towards gaining a better sense of international environmental stability through architectural and artistic prisms.
Major support for the Indigenous International: Green Architecture Project was provided by the U.S. Department of State and the Republic of Rwanda. Programmatic support is provided by the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda, Kigali Center for Photography, and Soul Center for the Arts. Media support is provided by Climax Visuals Rwanda. 
Lisa Napper, Project Coordinator lisa@soulofnations.org
Soul of Nations Foundation Rwanda Office rw@soulofnations.org

Although the Soul of Nations Foundation staff remains optimistic for the success of all international programming, the health and safety of our program participants and team are top priorities. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be necessary to postpone projected activities for the Green Architecture Project. 

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During the site visit, MASS  Design Group gave a presentation to the Rwandan participants explaining the design phases of the site at RICA. MASS also gave the participants a tour of the site while explaining the day-to-day operations and their vision for the future.
MASS Design Group is serving as a project partner for the Soul of Nations Foundation’s Indigenous International: Green Architecture Project in Rwanda. Through this partnership, MASS will lead workshops, provide design and materials support, and lead site visits for our project participants in Rwanda.
During the Zoom call, both U.S. and Rwandan participants introduced themselves and participated in an icebreaker where every participant was asked to bring an object that reminds them of the concept of Participants also met Soul of Nations Foundation project coordinator, Ernest Hill; U.S. Embassy Kigali representative, Claudine Neshimwe; and the project’s lead artist mentor, Nanibah Chacon. 
Climax Visual is a creative team of audiovisual directors based in Kigali, Rwanda. Climax Visual was founded in 2012 with the mission to capture the essence of special moments of everyday life. Since 2017, Climax Visuals has been dedicated to working with artists, local and international organizations, music labels, and primarily specializing in music videos.
Rwandan participants from the Indigenous International: Green Architecture Project had the opportunity to engage in the first workshop held by MASS Design Group at the Rwanda Art Museum. During the workshop, the participants explored culture, home, and stability through various forms of artistic media and technology, design
Rwandan participants from the Indigenous International: Green Architecture Project had the opportunity to engage in the first in-person orientation for the Green Architecture Project followed by a series of meetings/convenings for program development. 
The Rwanda Art Museum is the country’s only institution dedicated to contemporary art. Formerly the Presidential Palace Museum, this new museum displays contemporary artworks from Rwanda as well as abroad. The museum seeks to provide an insight into the originality of Rwandan creativity. Exploring the development of art from olden times to the modern-day, it considers how traditional and modern imaginations can blend and fuse. The museum manager, Vivaldi Ngenzi, and curatorial staff are committed to program partners for the Green Architecture Project.
The Soul of Nations Foundation has received a small grant from the U.S. Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda for the Indigenous International: Green Architecture Project. The Indigenous International: Green Architecture Project coincides with the U.S. Embassy Kigali Public Affairs Section’s program priority to promote inclusive country-led development. 

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