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Front row with Jean Luc Iradukunda

Photography by ToscaNeena

Front row with Jean Luc Iradukunda

My next interviewee for the FRM Blog is an exceptionally talented young fine artist – born in Rwanda but living in the heartbeat of Cape Town, South Africa. Jean Luc Iradukunda is a 24-year old hybrid between a software engineer & painter whose artworks caught my attention earlier on this year. His work largely references his personal experiences of living and growing up as a Rwandan migrant in modern-day South Africa, resulting in his subjects depicted as abstracted blue alien-like figures.

Family portrait, 2022.

This technique aptly reminds me of the 2016 film, 'Moonlight', with a quote which says:

"Runnin' around, catching up all that light. In moonlight, black boys look blue. You blue, that's what I'm gon' call you. 'Blue'."

Within the space of a just a few years, Jean Luc has managed to evolve and metamorphosis his craft so much. Initially his works were extremely abstract, and now they lean more towards Fauvism; the result of a continuous search by the artist for meaning within his work. This maturity of technique married with his personal narrative has birthed a fresh and nuanced approach to Jean Luc's work. My two favourite artworks from his entire catalogue are 'American girl' (2020) and 'Abantu bu’bururu' (2020) as I feel they perfectly encapsulate what I enjoy most about his work. (the usage of colour is just impeccable)

Jean Luc Iradukunda, American girl; 2022. Photography by Brutal Curation

So, from explaining his art style as partially a caricature influenced by his experience as a Rwandan migrant in SA, right to telling us about his experience with gallery exhibitions thus far – I had the absolute pleasure of virtually engaging Jean Luc in order to further understand his creative vision, inspirations, artistic process, and more.

Would you mind introducing yourself and including a short description of what you do?

Jean Luc: My name is Jean Luc Niyonzima Iradukunda. I am a 24 year old Rwandan-born artist and software engineer currently based in Cape Town, South Africa.

How would you describe the style of your art? What inspires it?

Jean Luc: The style of my art can be partially described as a caricature – with the exception of my objective. Tate Modern defines a caricature as “a painting, or more usually drawing, of a person or thing in which the features and form have been distorted and exaggerated in order to mock or satirise the subject”. My objective with my work is not to mock nor be satirical but rather to empathize and euphemise the struggles of my subjects. My inspirations are the experiences of living and growing up as a Rwandan migrant in modern-day South Africa, both at an individual level as well as within the contexts of my nucleus family. Whether it be a family portrait or a portrait of a car guard, it’s all closely tied to my upbringing.

Zima Blue, 2021.

Do you have a specific process when creating your artworks?

Jean Luc: Currently, the process I use to go from conception to final piece on a canvas involves a series of iterations. I usually start off with a small messy sketch in an A5 sketchbook – which I have titled 'The book of Blue People'. During my mentorship at Brutal Curation, my mentors and I discuss the sketch and concept. These discussions serve as a way for them to share their extensive knowledge and experiences on tools, methodologies, approaches, and everything else in between that I may need to see my concept actualised. I then go through a series of revisions scaling the work up until completion.

Unguarded Guard process photo, 2022

I noticed how your artistic style has matured over the years since 2020... Initially very abstract and now more Fauvist. Why the figures with blue faces? What is the significance of its meaning?

Jean Luc: When I started making art, I always used to look for inspiration from as far as I possibly could. I had yet to realise that the story I’ve always wanted to tell was right before me. Over those years, I mostly used the internet as a library of references to explore different avenues of creation and experimentation. All of those experiments culminated from when I started using family portraits at home as a reference, and for the first time tapping into my own story for inspiration. The significance of these abstracted blue alien-like subjects is a form of heightened 'othering' – aimed at capturing the alienation often

experienced by foreigners, refugees, and migrants who traverse spaces they are labelled to not belong.

'American girl' (2020) and 'Abantu bu’bururu' (2020) are big favourites of mine from your entire catalogue. The usage of colour is just impeccable. These works are currently exhibiting with WORLDART right? Tell us a bit more about this.

Jean Luc: I had the privilege of being a part of the ‘If not now when’ group show at WorldArt, curated by Brutal Curation. This show was very sentimental for me, WorldArt was the very first gallery I ever attended (about 7 years ago), so this was an incredible full-circle moment. Being able to showcase these two key pieces in the series made it all the more special. The show is still currently running until the 29th of September 2022.

Jean Luc Iradukunda, Abantu Bu'bururu; 2022. Photography by Mia Thom

How was your previous group exhibition, 'Winter Days', with Brutal Curation?

Jean Luc: It was beautiful, I’m still at the stage where I feel honoured every time my work is exhibited and this time was no different. Being granted the space to showcase my work alongside other very talented young artists is very invigorating.

Is there any advice you've picked up within your short career which you could impart to any young emerging fine artists attempting to make a name for themselves within the industry?

Jean Luc: I wouldn’t say that I have specific advice catered only to fine artists. From my experience, though, what has helped me get to where I am in my career is a combination of putting my work out there via social media and a lot of luck. There is a large barrier to entry into the art market and social media can help reduce that barrier extensively, so my advice from my personal experience is to put out as much work as you can, even the ones that you are not proud of, the objectives being honing your skills through practice and building an audience.

The second thing would be to find a story or narrative that resonates with you, a viewing into your own life and experiences. We all have a story to tell and people genuinely are open to hearing these stories, so if you want to tell a story that is unique and probably never heard before – tell your story, for there is no easier story to substantiate than your own.

Jean Luc Iradukunda, Unguarded Guard (1) and (2); 2022. Photography by Mia Thom


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