The complex issues related to current and historical colonization processes are at the core of Kapwani Kiwanga’s art practice. For example, Maji Maji (2014), which addressed the revolt that eventually led to Tanzania’s independence, or Flowers for Africa (2013), which reproduced, based on historical images, the floral centrepieces that graced the tables where decolonization treaties were signed, namely those of Côte d’Ivoire, Uganda, and Nigeria. Canadian artist Kapwani Kiwanga, who studied anthropology and comparative religion at McGill University, continues this line of research with her exhibition Sunlight by Fireside, a new body of work which, in light of the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission, takes on special significance.
Kiwanga often creates installations that actively involve viewers as a way to uncover various systems and structures of exclusion, oppression, and control. As such, she stresses the importance of avoiding a position of passive reception when it comes to acquiring knowledge, and instead, encourages viewers to experiment, participate, question, discuss, and ultimately learn to form their own opinions. Her projects displace expected points of view on a given situation to focus not on the players themselves, but on the objects or actions underlying or representing the power relations that are the focus of her inquiry. Her investigations take shape through the symbolic use of materials and processes – soil, flowers, woven shade cloth, invisibility and absence, lectures and oral transmission – that are capable of conveying political and social meaning.
As part of this project, Kiwanga chose to create opportunities for dialogue and sharing, inviting viewers to directly engage with her installation by handling the works in the gallery. By incorporating the Museum’s grounds as well as its galleries – creating a bridge between interior and exterior interventions – the artist indirectly put the Museum institution to the test, forcing it to be more flexible, open and accommodating; a constructive approach that ideally should prevail in any negotiation between parties with particular agendas. Institutional critique, however, is not central to Kiwanga’s work. Its ultimate aim is to help people reflect on the colonial experience as a whole. By using materials such as soil, light and shade cloth, the artist addresses economic and social issues of land ownership in relation to the extraction and exploitation of natural resources.
© Kapwani Kiwanga, Sunlight by Fireside, installation, Musée d’art de Joliette, 2018.
Credit: Vanessa Fortin
Courtesy of the artist.
Born in Ontario to Tanzanian parents, Kapwani Kiwanga lives and works in Paris. She studied anthropology and comparative religion at McGill University in Montreal, completed the “La Seine” program at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris, and has worked at the Centre national d’art contemporain Le Fresnoy in Tourcoing, France. She was artist in residence at the MU Foundation in Eindhoven, Netherlands, and at La Box in Bourges, France. Her works have been exhibited by world-class institutions such as the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume (Paris), Ferme du Buisson (Noisiel, France), London South Gallery (London), Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo (Turin), Logan Art Center (Chicago), Power Plant (Toronto), Esker Foundation (Calgary), and Glasgow International (Glasgow). Kiwanga is the winner of the 2018 Frieze Artist Award and she has been shortlisted for the 2018 Sobey Art Award.