The exhibition, titled ‘Kaspale’, marks seven years since Syowia Kyambi’s last solo exhibition in Nairobi, and features a selection of recent works, all of which have not been previously exhibited in Nairobi, Kenya.
Syowia Kyambi, Becoming Kaspale, 2021. Video 10 minutes, 32 seconds. Courtesy of Syowia Kyambi and Nairobi Contemporary Art Institute.
Drawn from the ongoing Kaspale project, works in the exhibition include photography, video, sculpture, multimedia installation, and performance, all created between 2018 and 2022.
‘Kaspale’ is a trickster character created by Kyambi to intervene in situations where the burden of often violent histories has rendered them difficult to articulate and engage with. This body of work, which began in 2018 with research into the history of the Amani Research Station in Usambara, Tanzania, and the archives of the MARKK Museum, has expanded into a series of encounters and interventions in which Kaspale shuttles back and forth in time and space, appearing in real and imagined spaces, always with a mind to speak and act where speech and action are otherwise curtailed.
The exhibition brings the audience into Kaspale’s ever-growing universe to witness as Kaspale intervenes in recent Kenyan history, appearing in photographic archives of East Africa’s colonial past, and entering the spaces which bear the legacy of the colonial project. Beyond this, Kyambi introduces Kaspale’s kin, and transports viewers to Kaspale’s place of origin. Kaspale’s multiform, multidimensional nature is an invitation to question ideas about time, memory, origins, and kinship.
Through Kasaple, Kyambi undertakes a commentary, at times satirical, of the legacies of colonisation, histories of state-sanctioned violence, individual and collective memory, and how these together inform one’s sense of self. Golden-mouthed, with red ochre limbs, and donning a Kaunda suit, Kaspale appears to hold space for truth-telling.
Syowia Kyambi recognizes the power of entwining the personal with the political and the entangled nature of both. Incorporating photography, video, drawing, sculpture and performance installation Kyambi’s approach takes aim at the politics of the time as well as its legacy today, what is remembered, what is archived, and how we see the world anew. Kyambi engages with museums and/or ethnographic collections, personal and public archives. She bridges disciplines, visually interrogates our histories, the representation of identity, the effects on the psyche and the nuances in our relationships to each other and the world we live in.
She was represented in the Pavilion of Kenya, La Biennale di Venezia this year in 2022. Her works include a permanent commission ‘Infinity: Flashes of the Past’ Nairobi National Museum (2007). She is the recipient of the Centre for Art Design & Social Research fellowship (2018-2020), the UniArts Helsinki fellowship (2018), the Smithsonian Artist Research fellowship (2017) and the Art in Global Health grant from the Wellcome Trust Fund, United Kingdom (2013). Artist residencies include PRAKSIS, Norway (2019), Delfina Foundation, UK (2016) and IASPIS, Sweden (2013). Her work is held in a number of collections including the Kouvola Art Museum, Finland, and the Sindika Dokolo Foundation.
Kyambi is the co-founder and curatorial creator of Untethered Magic, a collective founded in 2019 that focuses on facilitating exchange and building networks in support of research and process-based practices. Kyambi is particularly interested in knowledge building through the merger of different disciplines, often bringing together different age groups, areas of study as well as merging artists with creatives in the field of humanities and sciences. Her practice examines how our contemporary human experience is influenced by histories framed through the lens of the oppressing powers. She creates installations that incorporate performance to activate objects and narrate stories, exploring cultural identities, linking them to issues of loss, memory, race, and gender. She opens her gullet like a pelican and tries to digest the intangible. Rooted in her practice is a deep connection to land, earth and home.
The exhibition will be on view from the 23rd of March until the 30th of June, 2023. For more information, please visit the Nairobi Contemporary Art Institute.