Syowia Kyambi (b. 1979, Nairobi, Kenya) graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2002.
Fracture (i) (2011) references the transformations in Nairobi in relation to its violent colonial history. How does one adapt to the fast-economic transformations and the social norms the economies bear? The work takes the form of a performance, which has been recorded and projected in the space, and an installation. The objects that remain in the space are those used by Kyambi during the performance, and include pieces of pottery, a sisal costume, a dressing table, various objects (e.g., makeup, a wig, clothes), photographs, paintings, and various platforms, or ‘stages’, that represent different places and times.
The sisal costume was developed using the traditional weaving method the Kamba used for making baskets. With this material, Kyambi references both traditional local craft, as well as colonial sisal plantations that existed in the early twentieth century. The plantations enforced limitations on Kenyans, taking away their right to financial security and denying them power. The ‘entity’ that wears this costume during the first section of the performance is destructive and aggressive, taking on a colonial energy. The second phase of the installation-performance brings to life a contemporary woman named Rose, who comes from rural Kenya, an area of Kirinyaga, near Embu town, and wants to make it in the city. The photographs in the slide projection behind her dressing table depict Rose’s memories of her mother’s home and its surroundings.
In the performance, Rose dresses for work, struggles to greet people, repeatedly falls – symbolically stumbling on the remains of a past destruction. She mourns the past and attempts to reassemble the broken pieces of pottery. At the end of the performance she faces the past, forsakes the new role she had built for herself, and accepts feelings of sorrow and agony. It is through this process that she can rediscover her life.