Kapwani Kiwanga (b. 1981, Hamilton, Canada) lives and works in Paris. She received a joint BA in Anthropology and Comparative Religions from McGill University, Montreal, in 2002.
For EVA International 2016, Kiwanga’s A Memory Palace (2015) offers the visitor a journey through time, constructed spaces, and assembled narratives using image and sound. The idea of a palace or grand residency is central to the work. The artist references a physical edifice that no longer exists: the old Reichskanzlei, which was located in Berlin and formerly known as Palais Radziwill or Palais Schulenburg. This building was the setting for a number of historical events and important meetings, was damaged during World War II and subsequently demolished.
The starting point for the project is the Congo Conference (1884–85), a series of diplomatic meetings that transpired within this building’s walls. European and American representatives met at the palace and made decisions that would change the geopolitical topography forever. Its decisions regulated European trade in Africa, led to the establishment of the Congo Free State, and set the stage for the ensuing the ‘scramble for Africa’: the fervent colonization of Africa by European nations. Kiwanga’s investigations take her to the period before the Congo Conference where she unearths some intriguing stories.
The artist’s voice recites a text based on her research on the Congo Conference, which pulls together creation myths, acts of liberation, detective novels, and crimes against humanity. The installation transforms the exhibition place into the physical manifestation of a ‘memory palace’. A memory palace is an ancient Greek method of memory enhancement: visualization is used to organize and recall information. Using image and spoken word in her constructed three-dimensional memory palace, Kiwanga invites the visitor to discover signs, which range from obscure to iconic, archival to popular. A Memory Palace is a conceptual, temporal, and geographical meandering that allows new narratives to unfold and become inscribed onto the viewer’s memory.