Tongo Art Gallery

Tongo Art Gallery

Joe and Sarah have moved so the Tongo Art Gallery has closed.

There’s a new art gallery in town! Except… it’s not really that new. But it’s new to me and it’s one of the more recent additions to Kigali’s growing art scene. Tongo Art Gallery, located in Kacyiru, opened its doors in March 2014 and has grown into a pretty amazing space for art, fantastic homemade jewellery, and painting classes – with a view!

It’s owners are Joe and Sarah – two creatives with a passion for art and for Rwanda. Joe is from the DRC and came to Kigali three years ago just as part of a short visit on his way to Kenya. He didn’t intend on moving here but liked the city and its growing art scene so much that he decided to stick around. After teaching art for awhile at Ecole Belge he decided to follow his heart, opening Tongo with his partner, Sarah. Sarah is from the US but has lived in Cameroon, Ghana, C.A.R., and Kenya before finding herself in Rwanda working as a business consultant specializing in fashion production. She’s also passionate about jewellery design and her work (under the label ‘Maji Designs’) can be found on display at the Tongo Art Gallery alongside Joe’s paintings.

Tongo Art Gallery

Tongo is unique among Kigali’s major art galleries in that it has one painter creating artwork, rather than a team of artists. All of Rwanda’s other main art galleries (Inema, Ivuka, Yego, and Uburanga… check them out!) house the works of several artists who usually paint on site and display their art in their affiliated gallery. This gives you a great feel for a variety of artists with different styles and these places are pushing Rwandan art forward all the time with its distinct abstract and colourful style.

Tongo is more focused on sharing Joe’s individual artistic journey and the gallery is a reflection of the inspiration he finds in nature, the female form, and African culture. You’ll find these common themes in Joe’s art and it’s nice to explore the gallery, joining him on a creative journey of sorts. Ok, yes, that sounded a bit flakey but seeing the evolution of his style and being able to watch him at work and chat with him about his art is great. All of Rwanda’s art galleries are very open and accessible in this way and it’s something that I think makes the art scene here quite exciting.

The gallery is small but it’s tastefully filled with Joe’s artwork and Sarah’s jewellery and other creations in a nice setting in a small, converted house. Joe does his painting on the gallery’s beautiful back porch and you can peer over his shoulder and watch him work. Which might be the most annoying thing in the world, but he doesn’t seem to mind!

Or you can arrange to join him on the balcony for an art class as Tongo offers individual or small group (maximum four people) painting classes. This is something that’s unique to Kigali and, as a person who likes to dabble with the ol’ paintbrushes from time to time, I was excited to hear about his classes. For $30 (or $110 for four) you’ll get a private class running between 1.5 and 2 hours with expert artistic tutelage from Joe. A stretched canvas will cost a very reasonable $8 extra, and paints another $5 (or bring your own), and the use of their brushes and easels are included. Hanging out on their beautiful balcony with Joe, some paint, and a great view seems like a damned fine way to spend an afternoon and I’m hoping to give the classes a try soon.

Joe Teaching

Tongo Art Gallery is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm and evenings by appointment and also host small events from time to time (keep an eye out on my events calendar). Sarah and Joe’s hope is that Tongo and Maji Designs will continue to grow, pushing the design capabilities of artisans in Rwanda in the process. Beautiful art, reasonable prices, relaxed atmosphere, nice people… Tongo is a great little place and worth a stop!

Hours: Daily, 9 am to 5 pm
Phone: 0784 525 185 (English) / 0787 771 880 (French)

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About Kirsty

A Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around the world in search of sun, beautiful views and goat brochettes. Found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit. I expect to be here until I get kicked out for defiantly walking on the grass while wearing flip flops.