These works by Syowia Kyambi document a body of installation and performance work, known as Fracture (i) (2011–16). These performances think through the contemporary afterlives of British colonialism in Kenya and speculate on possibilities for personal and collective, as well as mental and structural, transformation. Kyambi wears this costume made from sisal, which she constructed using the Kamba weaving method, conventionally employed for making kiondos (local handwoven bags). In doing so, the outfit juxtaposes the discredited transgenerational knowledges sedimented in these Kenyan handicraft traditions with the historical materiality of colonial sisal plantations.
These colonial plantations, besides intervening in and disrupting local ecologies, disenfranchise black Kenyans by dispossessing them of their land and their political and economic power. Covering her head while stepping on clay vessels filled with red paint as a stand-in for blood, Kyambi’s performance allegorises the intertwined structural, epistemic, and ecological violence wrought by these colonial histories, using the specificity of her gendered body to transmute their reverberations into the present day.
Syowia Kyambi’s artistic practice collapses past and present, interrogating the afterlives of colonialism and the ways they structure our contemporary political landscape. Her practice explores themes of race, perception, gender and family, demanding that viewers and participants bear witness to embodiments of collective social and historical experience. Enacting a politics of memory and hope, Kyambi’s work asks important questions about what is remembered, what is archived and how we could see the world anew. Also rooted in her practice is a deep connection with the land, the earth and the idea of home. In blending disparate concepts and elements, the artist allows her audiences and participants to observe how such varied components react, interact and metamorphose. As Kyambi writes, “I open my gullet like a pelican and try to digest the intangible."
Entity Costume part of Fracture (i), 2011
Sisal costume and woven reed headdress
Costume Dims: 158 x 95 x 70 cm
Costume Dims: 62 1/4 x 37 3/8 x 27 1/2 in
Headdress Dims: 99 x 90 x 70 cm
Headdress Dims: 39 x 35 3/8 x 27 1/2 in