Through history mankind has always tried to increase his capacities, tools gave him extra strength, weapons gave him extra force, the engine allowed him to carry heavier things, but it’s the first time in human kind that we have devices which are not about the physical strength but about mental strength. In the postcolonial discourse, the key question is, who is in the fore in accessing tools of developing ones mental strength? In the 21st century, are our old references to the industrial revolution still valid? What is deemed good, what is treated as right, what is deemed wrong, where does the African contemporary go from here? References in these fast mutating societies are hard to find, and this is where Syowia’s work Fracture (i) is placing itself; addressing transformations in her society, where does one stand as a woman, as a human being? How do you adapt to the fast economic transformations and the social norms the economies bear?.
In Kenya and specifically the capital city, Nairobi, there is a narrow viewpoint of what it is to be successful. Generally success is measured with materialism that stems from western capitalistic ideals. This current construction includes a past value system based a communal identity, the result often creating violent and vulnerable circumstances. Syowia uses her history to explain what is coming. Her work Fracture (i) (i) has a reference to colonialism, references to transformation and the contemporary situation. It navigates the society – the idea of what you should be or what you shouldn’t be, how you present yourself, how people assume you’re this or that. The sisal costume used in the beginning of the performative element in the work was developed using traditional Kamba weaving method used for making kiondo’s , referencing to both traditional craft as well as the colonial sisal plantations. The plantations enforced limitation on black Kenyans, taking away their right to establish financial security and therefore denying them power. In her performance, it was important for Syowia to have a covered head specifically during the destruction phase of stepping on the clay vessels, symbolic to the current state of dissolving Kenya’s heritage: the destruction of a life force.
Syowia uses the camera to document objects that have personal symbolism, focusing and recording the fine details. This is the core of her photographic process. These photographs in turn are reconstructed and incorporated into her final installation and performance works. In Kenya’s contemporary society the photographic image is a readily accepted medium across most economic and social sectors. It is accepted because people connect with what they can easily understand. One relates to objects and/or people in an image. Photographs are part and parcel of the atmosphere of urban and rural homes; they are in calendars, family albums and displayed as framed pictures and art. Photographs penetrate home life; they are a portal into a past time and ultimately create feelings of nostalgia.
Syowia reawakens this photographic connection with her use of black and white photographs within Fracture (i) specifically in the section to the far right. In the installation, this section characterises a contemporary woman named ‘Rose’, who wants to make it in the city, comes from rural Kenya; an area of Kirinyaga, near Embu town . The photographs in the slide projection are ‘Rose’s’ memoires of her mothers home and it’s surroundings. Syowia developed a very specific character/person and connects her to the circumstance of the world. The way capitalism has functioned in Kenya has basically grown this character, ‘Rose’. The consumer model of measuring success, structured historically, creates this kind of person that you find often in the city, around the world. In the performance, Rose, dresses up for work, struggles to greet people, repeatedly falls down, and she stumbles upon the remains of a past destruction. She mourns the loss and attempts to place the vessels into some sort of order, propping them upright and grouping them. At the end of the performance she faces the agony of the past, forsakes the role she had built for herself and accepts the feelings of sorrow and agony. Through that process she is able to rediscover her life.
The black and white photographs of clouds in the section where the sisal costume is suspended parallel to the mirror is like a void – a timelessness. The use of the clouds helps to reinstate this narration. The mirror, a repeated material in Syowia’s work allows the audience to see themselves within this void; the hesitation and passivity within the development of our global affairs.
Mixed Media Installation & Performance
2m by 8m, height variable
Kouvola Art Museum, Finland 2011
WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels 2015
Konsthalle Lund, 2015
49 Nord 6 Est FRAC Lorraine, Metz 2015