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