For the last three weeks, a 36-year-old artist from Uganda, Julius Katende, has been busy at Inema working on an intriguing artwork named The Talking Gorilla. This gorilla is the brainchild of Rwandan IT specialist, Cyusa Mucyowiraba.
A chat with Cyusa, to find out how this idea came about, led to the discovery that he is a man of big dreams and big ideas. A product of Rwanda National University where he studied computer sciences, and before that physics, Cyusa is a man who has put all that he studied into practice.
He says that having developed different software-online guidance, online mapping and having had experience with Kigali city, and knowing how IT can change things, an idea struck his mind on what can be done to help guide people in this city.
"We developed an application but it couldn't work if there's no interaction with the computer," he says, adding that he came to realize that with the competition here in Rwanda "we are just serving people but don't offer our own products."
Therefore an idea was niggling in his mind on how to develop an application that was uniquely Rwandan and could serve people. "While sitting at my office, I thought about a machine that can interact with people. [I also needed to] give it a shape. But giving it a shape was also a challenge."
But the power of thought was growing stronger. He says that he zeroed in on animals the country has and particularly those that attract the highest number of foreign tourists. That is how the idea of the 'Talking Gorilla' was hatched.
He adds that he had no problem with the technical part as an IT specialist, but the artwork would prove to be the initial challenge. He shared his idea with a friend from USA called David Helmer, an artist, and they began thinking together on how they can make this idea work. He asked Helmer about Inema and the latter told him to go ahead with the art center.
He says that he approached Inema and they brainstormed on how they could make this feasible, about the materials to be used and later set themselves a deadline. He was introduced by Inema co-founder Innocent Nkurunziza to Katende who has had a long experience as a metal artist and after assembling the skeleton parts and putting down the right computer and other electronic parts, Katende's work began of constructing the gorilla.
This Talking Gorilla, he says, is able to work at the reception, security guide and it can sell services and receive money. "It's solar powered and also work with batteries which makes it easier to use."
He says that the Talking Gorilla can get connected to any network WIFI. "When we begin using it, it will connect to 4G which will make it remotely accessible to enable it deliver information to anyone who's around."
Right now the gorilla has been fixed with computer and other electronic parts. Cyusa adds that what they are currently working on is just a prototype since they intend to start working on a 'Walking and Talking Gorilla' from next month.
He says that the Talking Gorilla is going to present them with many different business opportunities. "Different companies can use it for publicity purposes and it also has the potential to market and brand the country."
He says that Talking Gorilla is going to revolutionize how business is done. "We are living in advanced computer age now and we should start thinking outside the box on how we can use this technology to help us operate our businesses."
He adds that they are having different ideas on how to make different computerized animals and this is just the first product that's going to be a vanguard of better things to come from their stable. "My idea is also to make a dancing gorilla that can be used to market our country. We wanted to be part of Kwita Izina this year but the constraints of time let us down since we couldn't meet that deadline."
Cyusa says that this is the era of computerized arts and 80% of the materials and all the applications are going to be developed by them.
Cyusa adds that 20 years after Genocide against the Tutsi and as a genocide survivor himself, he would like to dedicate this (Talking Gorilla) to the government and particularly to the president for the security and freedom that the people of Rwanda enjoy today.
"Rwanda went through some dark period and other people thought that the country was dead and buried. However, we rose from the ashes and we are coming up with innovative and creative people who are able to change things. This is a great inspiration to do what I'm doing since we have different solutions. Today, we are talking about the gorilla, tomorrow we will talk about something else."
The innovator has kind words to the kind of teamwork and collaboration that they are having in developing this robot, adding that it has been a wonderful experience working with a master artist, Julius Katende.
I manage to talk to Katende, prodding him on how he came to be such a genius artist and I get some interesting facts.
He is a vegetarian who believes that eating meat make people lazy and weak in the mind. "Look at the lion after eating meat. He will just lie there lazily until he's hungry again to go on the prowl for his next meal. But the elephant that eats grass is normally active, wise and lives longer life."
He says that great people in history like Plato, Socrates, Gandhi, Einstein and Davinsky were all vegetarians and their ideas changed world's history.
Born in 1978 in Masaka, Uganda he says he was a precocious child who was intrigued by arts even before he stepped into the classroom.
"I used to go to the Catholic Church and I was always amazed by the artwork that graced the walls of the church. I wanted to recreate such things and started molding even before I went to school."
Katende says that he came from a family of artists and this also had a profound influence on his early foray into art.
When he was in secondary school in Masaka, he decided to take art as an extra subject though students were required to take three subjects. He emerged the best student and proceeded to Kyambogo University where he took art as a course.
"All the students failed but it was only me who passed at the end of my university odyssey," he says with a smile.
It was now time to do art full time after university. He started working with ceramics and got some good contracts with some of the established companies in Uganda.
He first came to Rwanda in 2012 when he developed a kinetic pendulum that's conspicuous at the Inema Center. "I can make kinetic sound art that can sing any kind of national anthem," he says. He also described himself as the pioneer of installation art in Rwanda since the pieces he made on his first visit to the country has now been replicated by other artists.
He says working on the Talking gorilla has been a gruesome but exciting experience. "I've had to cut my fingers several times. I've had to drop all aspects of my social life to concentrate on developing it."
He says that since he has never seen a mountain guerilla physically he had to use his imagination to develop that kind of work that's now standing proudly at the workshop of the center.
"I've had positive critic from people who visit the center and sees what I'm developing. People have also come to advise me on what should be changed and I've taken such advice positively to come out with what you're now seeing here."
He's full of praise for the people he's working with at Inema Centre, saying that art is Rwanda has gone some exponential growth from the first time he came.
However, he challenges the government to introduce the study of art at the formative stages of the school since "even if you want to make shoes, you have to sketch it first, and that's art."