When Timothy Wandulu first revealed to the world his social art project in 2014, he was received coldly; indeed, many people seemed to shake their head in disapproval.
Wandulu, 29, had touched a taboo subject: breasts. His entire untitled collection was made out of bras, earning him a scolding that it was disrespectful to women.
The lesson hit home and hard: That art does not exist in a vacuum. There is society with its unique ways, for example. “I was getting to understand society norms, culture and setting,” he says.
But Wandulu was a man on a mission. He went back to the drawing boards and come 2015, he was all set for another go at his pet subject: Breast cancer awareness.
His 2015 collection entitled Women In Pink, received a friendlier, warmer reception.
In the exhibition, Wandulu used semi abstract works of paintings on canvas.
At play were works of mixed media, crafted out of recycled material like old newspapers and magazines, placed on canvas to complement the acrylics paints.
The collection featured a portrait of Rwanda’s First Lady Janet Kagame as one of the influential figures.
What sets Wandulu apart from the rest is that right from the beginning, he tries to reach out to ordinary people and communities with his art social projects.
In 2017, Wandulu added a welcome twist to his mission: He launched an audio-visual exhibition, compiling videos accompanied by sound about breast cancer awareness.
He would then showcase the results in communal spaces in Rwamagana, Butare, Gisenyi among others.
“It revealed a lot about how people perceive the disease and this taught me a lot,” he explains.
And this year, the lessons under his belt, Wandulu went even bigger, choosing October as the month to apply much of what he has gathered about breast cancer awareness through art.
“I question myself: Why did I opt for social art which doesn’t have as much money as mainstream artworks which can readily attract buyers?” he asks.
In his ongoing project entitled Beyond, Wandulu is reaching out to communities from door-to-door, introducing himself.
He then seeks permission to proceed with painting pink ribbons on people’s doors in line with breast cancer awareness campaign.
“It is in the sense of beautifying the space, alongside sparking a debate about the exercise,” he explains.
So far, Wandulu has reached out to 30 families in Gisenyi district, and several others in Nyamirambo, suburb in Nyarugenge, Kigali.
Such projects have been embraced, not by high-end citizens, but ordinary people.
What is the reason behind this method?
To Wandulu, this is social art being embraced by not just the society but also public institutions.
“There are a lot of institutions which I love seeing affiliated to these projects not not for the sake of self-benefit, but for a wider reach to the masses,” he observes.
According to Wandulu, this campaign first draws in the audience and as they enjoy the art they talk about the disease.
“I would love to do bigger breast cancer awareness projects in schools around the country, but that calls for a real push,” he explains.
October is a month dedicated to breast cancer awareness. And what better way to pay tribute to this cause than through his art.
This year complements the artist’s cause of making art for awareness, by reaching out.