Matt brings Kigali Memorial Center amphitheater to life using bamboo

Published: 19 July 2015 at 16:49

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The ampitheater (L), as it looked during the Ubumuntu Arts Festival, was designed by Matt Deely (R)

Never had the grounds of the Kigali Memorial Center at Gisozi drawn so much attention and “wows” from visitors and passersby as it did this month.

As the Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company prepared to stage its maiden arts festival, Ubumuntu, the hitherto unimposing amphitheater at the memorial was slowly scaling its way into people’s imaginations, until such a point that it became impossible to miss.

The festival may have come to a close last Sunday, but talk about the spiky bamboo-inspired set design will probably go on for a long time to come.

Most people actually thought the old structure that housed the stage of the amphitheater had been razed down and a new one erected, which wasn’t the case.

What the set designer Matt Deely actually did was simply embellish the old structure with a custom made design for the Ubumuntu Arts Festival.

The concept

As a professional set designer from Ireland, Matt says that the first reaction he likes to hear whenever he works on a design is “wow!” because that’s the stage and if it’s beautiful, it will make people focus on what’s happening on it.”

“I saw this mettle down. It (amphitheater) was a beautiful space already, but I felt it was a little less elevated. So the idea was to design something with that distinct aura of elevation –something which could represent either sunshine, or 100 years of wars and spears. I wanted something dramatic, something with energy, something that would elevate people’s imagination. Of course I had to think of other practicalities like building a backstage area,” Matt explains.

“You’re doing something for the first time, so you kind of want to get people to pay attention. You’re saying hey, look … look this way!”

To him, it was an easy task to execute, in part due to the fact he would be working with one of his favorite materials –bamboo.

Last year, through a designer friend of his who was in Kigali to do an art project, Matt met Hope Azeda of Mashirika.

“Hope asked my friend if she would be interested in designing a stadium event for the 20th genocide commemoration and my friend recommended me.”

The recommendation had something to do with the fact that at the time, Matt was working on the design for the opening ceremony of the Olympics, “so I felt I had a grasp of how to do a stadium event,” he quips.

“I worked on the idea and when I finalized it, I just did the painting myself because I felt it was quicker that way.”

This year Hope told him she was doing an arts festival in Kigali and asked if he would be interested in working on the set design.

“She asked me to write a proposal on what we can do so as to try and get potential sponsors. About two months ago, I designed the concept and sent it to her. It was a very simple sketch I did on my iPhone and I told her this is what it’s going to be, and she liked it.”

Later he did something more detailed, and Hope used it to find some potential sponsors.

In a matter of two weeks, the new design was up and ready for the festival, but also to tickle people’s imagination.

Matt contends that his design was “very economically created” because the only major expense incurred was on paying labor.

“Last year we did the stadium event with bamboo, and we bought way more than was needed, which helped us this year, because we had lots of free bamboo to use.”

Just like last year when he first visited, Matt again used the opportunity this time to visit the genocide memorial center.

“Since last year up to now, I’ve been meeting different people in Rwanda. I’ve been getting to know their faces and their character and their friendships. When I look further to what I witnessed at the memorial, I feel the same love for the people there as well. I feel I could have loved them as well and had the same experience with them. Perhaps some of them would be my personal friends.”

For him, it was a very deep and moving experience that made him think humans are strange creatures, “because what’s the point in killing a fellow human being?”

“But I hope we’re progressing as a species as we get to know more about and to respect other people’s cultures, religions, and beliefs. We should learn to live and let live,” he concludes.

With the moderate success of the two projects so far, Matt already has his eyes set on further engagements in Rwanda: “Next year I’m doing a musical called Crime and Punishment which will be staged in Moscow. I will also be doing a contemporary dance piece in Beijing in September.

In Rwanda, I’ve been asked to get involved with this year’s gorilla naming ceremony, and also on a French musical titled Ten Commandments.

Source: The NewTimes.

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