In this work, Kyambi explores new paradigms for interdisciplinary collaboration by working with artist and choreographer James Mweu and dancers from the Kunja Dance Theatre to stage a choreographed performance, creating material that examines contemporary viewpoints on themes that are central to her practice: the body, gender issues and social perception. Between Us aims to unravel and examine critically our perception of what is acceptable, what is private, and the meaning we impose on what we see, informed by how we are shaped by the society we live in and the conventions we live by. The work doesn’t settle exclusively on one theme but stages socially engaged, layered narratives that draw universal emotions associated with vulnerability, disruption, perception and beauty.
Washing lines, placed just above eye level, crisscross the space, which is windowless and enclosed by bare walls, engendering an intimate, almost claustrophobic, highly charged atmosphere. Elements of every day life – mirrors, chairs, a sofa, buckets with soapy water, brooms, piles of underwear and clothes pegs - are scattered everywhere, and are bathed in a soft light. The characters move about the space, carefully choreographed yet isolated figures, each going through their own transformation through performing every day, mundane actions of dressing, undressing, sweeping the floor, washing clothes and trying on different underwear. The space is feminine and exposes extremely private, intimate practices to the public, creating images our collective consciousness perceives as highly sexual. Unnerving viewers in the process, the work exposes the roots of taboos and questions how our public experience affects us personally.
The constant, private, repetitive, almost ritualistic actions of dressing and posing in front of a mirror, undressing, washing, highlight the carefully constructed and shifting identities demanded by the multiple roles occupied by women everywhere, intimate acts of transformation usually completed in the privacy of one’s own home. Their voyeuristic exposure via the performance simultaneously enhances the women’s vulnerability and their ambiguous power. The male characters attempt at shifting our perception: by sweeping, washing, and interrupting the female performers they engender the destruction of conventional norms and our reading of the work. They try on female underwear, they attempt to break the taboos imposed on our society by taking on female identities, thereby constructing an alternative viewing experience that asks questions about our existence and provokes thought.
The artist walks among the dancers, photographing them and their actions with a polaroid camera and immediately presenting the images to the public and placing within the installation piece. Ultimately, the work will leave no trace beyond these photographs and video documentation, and the memories in people’s minds. She herself is going through a transformation, shifting her identity, challenging our notions of perception – she is watching, recording, and at the same time she’s being objectified, watched and recorded herself.
Between Us is the culmination of two years of research Miriam undertook whilst living in Nairobi and traveling internationally, especially her time spent in IASPIS in Stockholm. During this time, the idea of an interactive exhibition with elements of video and live performance took shape, informed by her interrogation of perception which is underscored by current issues of globalization.
Installation & Performance
The Godown Art Centre
Nairobi - KENYA