About Syowia

east african contemporary artist

An Introduction to the Work

Biographical Statement

Syowia Kyambi (b. Nairobi) is an interdisciplinary artist and curator who works across photography, video, drawing, sound, sculpture and performance installation. She holds an MFA from Transart Institute (2020) and a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2002). In Kyambi’s artistic practice history collapses into the contemporary through the interventions of mischievous and disruptive interlocutory agents who interrogate the legacy of hurt inflicted by colonial projects that still frame the wider political conjuncture of now. The work is messy, complex and uneasy requiring its viewers and participants to bear witness to an embodiment of collective experiences, and a constant search for links between the now and the morphed now that is encapsulated in her work while asking important questions about what is remembered, what is archived, and how we see the world anew. Rooted in her practice is a deep connection with the land, the earth and the idea of home. By working to eloquently blend the disparate concepts and elements she contends with through her process, while avoiding excessive constraints or directing of the viewer, her audiences and participants watch and experience these ingredients react, interact and metamorphose. She opens her gullet like a pelican in an effort to ingest the intangible.

Along with exhibiting her works throughout Europe, Africa and the United States, Kyambi has received a number of awards and short-listings including the FT/Oppenheimer Funds Emerging Voices Awards (2016) and the UNESCO Prize for the Promotion of the Arts Award (2004). Artist residencies include PRAKSIS, Norway (2019), CAD+SR Italy & Mexico (2018), HIAP, Finland (2018), IASPIS, Sweden (2013), and Delfina Foundation, UK (2016). In her curatorial work she has collaborated with Ostrale Centre for Contemporary Art Biennale, Dresden, Germany (2019, 2016) and Goethe-Institute, Kenya (2012, 2010) as well as working with collectives and individual artists in East Africa. Her work is held in a number of private and public collections including the Robert Devereux Collection, London, the Kouvola Art Museum Collection, Finland, the National Museum of Kenya and with the Sindika Dokolo Foundation.
"Ms. Kyambi is a gift of East Africa to the world of Art. The topicallity and influence of her works will support her for a long time to come."
Johanna Vualasto
Syowia Kyambi, born in Nairobi in 1979, is a talented multi-media artist of Kenyan and German origin living and working in Kenya. Syowia graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago and has been the recipient of several awards and grants, including most recently the Art in Global Health Grant from the Wellcome Trust Fund in the United Kingdom. Her work has been shown in museums in Belgium, Finland, Kenya, Mali, Sweden, Germany, Zimbabwe, France, South Africa and the US and she is currently performing in Germany and Ireland.

Much of her work dissects and brings into question issues of race, perception, gender and memory, examining how our contemporary human experience is influenced by constructed history, past and present violence, colonialism, family and sexuality. Hers is a deep, emotionally charged and complex practice. Dealing with issues that whilst affecting us all independent of location, are not often discussed in African society, Syowia’s courage, determination and creativity in exploring these themes is extraordinary and has made her a unique emerging voice in the continent’s art world.

Her current practice is geared towards performance, exploring personal relationships and cultural identities, linking them to issues of loss, longing, race and exploring women’s roles in society. She often blends contemporary methodologies with a quest for traditional knowledge in her practice –video work with clay pots and basket weaving techniques for example - orchestrating an engagement with the viewer in a dynamic process that leaves behind a powerful visual impression. In her practice Syowia has collaborated with other artists, dancers, photographers, video artists and filmmakers. In the summer of 2014 Syowia presented Between Us in Nairobi, an experimental multi media production incorporating live art performance, installation, photography, sculpture and video. In this work she staged a performance that actively involved the spectating public creating material and conversations that examined contemporary viewpoints on the body, gender issues, perception and identity. Between Us aimed to unravel and critically observe 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.

By Nabila Abilahi
"The performance isn't the most important thing for me. The performance is just a trigger. The performance leaves an imprint."
Nabila Abilahi