Between Us - Chapter 3

Performance and Installation

Between Us is an ongoing project initiated in 2013 that incorporates a process of using performance as a method of transforming an installation. A mixture of choreographed moments and improvisation examine contemporary viewpoints on themes that are central to Syowia’s practice: the body, gender issues, and social perception. There are repetitive elements used within the performance installations such as double-sided mirrors, domestic workers uniform, a ladies business skirt suit, ladies nightdress, a Kaunda suit, and armchairs, however, each production has its own specific narrative situated with the context of the space the work is being presented in. This chapter subtitled Double Consciousness unravels and examines 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 stages socially engaged, layered narratives that draw universal emotions associated with vulnerability, disruption, perception, and beauty.
Identity, gender, memory, colonialism. These are the topics that the German-Kenyan multimedia, installation, and performance artist Syowia Kyambi deals with. She takes a critical stance on the cultural power structures that shape the construction of the self in the post-colonial world.

The exhibition Double Consciousness refers to a central concept of the American philosopher and sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, who is considered to be a leading figure of the civil rights movement and mastermind of Pan-Africanism. Syowia Kyambi draws attention to a specific aspect of the term double consciousness, which expresses the internal division or fragmentation of identity that individuals develop under conditions of general civil, political, and cultural inequality as a result of colonial history.

The exhibition shows a multimedia-based installation, a heterogeneous situation of several elements: While clothes together with double-sided mirrors hang from the ceiling, two projectors show sequences of a sky, striped with light clouds, on two walls. Next to that, a series of works on paper show gestural body prints of ash whose controlled randomness refers to performative actions. This suggests a time plane that correlates with a surrounding sound, the sounds of a strange rural environment. On another wall in the exhibition space, a diptych hangs, on whose panels two identical Kaunda suits, marked with the years 1964 and 2018, are placed next to each other.

The hanging clothes feature three central figures: a modern businesswoman, a servant, and another figure, marked as male by his clothes, namely a Kaunda suit. In the room situation, visitors interact with the figures insofar as they can look at themselves and at these through the mirrors, in the knowledge that one is being looked at by others. A situation that leads to a double consciousness.

Syowia Kyambi’s presence in the global art world is reflected in numerous solo and group exhibitions as well as artist residencies in countries like Belgium, Germany, Finland, France, Kenya, Mali, Mexico, Sweden, Zimbabwe, South Africa and the USA. In the course of her career, she was awarded several prizes and scholarships, such as the UNESCO Award for the Promotion of the Arts and the Art in Global Health Grant from the Wellcome Trust Fund in the United Kingdom.

Curator: Alejandro Perdomo Daniels

Installation: room installation and  performance, double sided mirror, fabric, projections, clothes hangers


Installation dimensions variable
Performance duration variable

Gallerie Mitte im KUBO, Bremen, Germany.

Alliance Francaise, Nairobi, 2018