Limerick, Ireland
Kapwani Kiwanga, A Memory Palace, 2015, 4-channel sound installation, table, chair, slides. Photo Miriam O'Connor, courtesy of the artist and Galerie Tanja Wagner, Berlin

Kapwani Kiwanga

b. 1981, Canada

Kapwani Kiwanga’s practice manifests as video and sound installations as well as performances. In her work she intentionally confuses truth and fiction to unsettle hegemonic narratives and to create spaces in which marginal discourse can flourish. As a trained anthropologist and social scientist, she occupies the role of researcher in her projects. Afrofuturism, anticolonial struggle and its memory, belief systems, and vernacular and popular culture are but some of the research areas that inspire her practice.

For EVA International 2016, Kiwanga’s A Memory Palace (2015) offered the visitor a journey through time, constructed spaces, and assembled narratives using image and sound. As the title suggests, the idea of a palace or grand residency is central to the work. The artist references a physical edifice that no longer exists: the old Reichskanzlei (Reich Chancellery), which was located in Berlin and formerly known as Palais Radziwill or Palais Schulenburg. This building was the setting for a number of historical events and important meetings, was damaged during World War II and subsequently demolished.

The starting point for the project is the Congo Conference (1884–85), a series of diplomatic meetings that transpired within this building’s walls. European and American representatives met at the palace and made decisions that would change the geopolitical topography forever. Its decisions regulated European trade in Africa, led to the establishment of the Congo Free State, and set the stage for the ensuing the ‘scramble for Africa’: the fervent colonization of Africa by European nations. Kiwanga’s investigations take her to the period before the Congo Conference where she unearths some intriguing stories. Stories she is eager to relate.

The artist’s voice recites a text based on her research on the Congo Conference, which pulls together creation myths, acts of liberation, detective novels, and crimes against humanity. The installation transforms the exhibition place into the physical manifestation of a ‘memory palace’. A memory palace is an ancient Greek method of memory enhancement: visualization is used to organize and recall information. Information to be remembered is mentally associated with a specific location within an imagined space. Whenever this information is needed, you only need to imagine yourself in a particular location within this space where images or situations trigger remembering. Using image and spoken word in her constructed three-dimensional memory palace, Kiwanga invites the visitor to discover signs, which range from obscure to iconic, archival to popular. The images work together in a quest for new stories. A Memory Palace is a conceptual, temporal, and geographical meandering that allows new narratives to unfold and become inscribed onto the viewer’s memory 

Kapwani Kiwanga lives and works in Paris. She received a joint BA in Anthropology and Comparative Religions from McGill University, Montreal, in 2002. She was an artist in residence at L’Ecole National Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris; Le Fresnoy: National Contemporary Art Studio, France; and MU Foundation, Eindhoven and Le Manège, Dakar. Her film and video works have been nominated for two British Academy of Film and Television (BAFTA) awards, and she has received awards at international film festivals. Her films have been screened at many international festivals, including: the International Short Film Festival Winterthur (2011), Switzerland; Musique pointdoc (2011), Gaîté Lyrique, Paris; Illégal Cinéma aux laboratoires d’Aubervilliers (2011), France Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle (2011), Paris; Edinburgh African Film Festival (2010); Kassel Documentary Film Festival (2008), Germany; 10th BFM International Film Festival (2008), London; SEOUL International Women’s Film Festival (2007), Korea; and São Paulo International Short Film Festival (2006), Brazil.

Solo exhibitions and performances include: Afrogalactica: Un abrégé de la future (2012), Contrechamp, Nantes; and Afrogalactica: A Short History of the Future a Performance (2011), Paris Photo, France. She has been selected to participate in recent international group shows including: What We Call Love: From Surrealism to Now (2015–16), Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Telepathic Relay (2015), HAU Hebbel Am Ufer, Berlin; Parle pour toi (2014), Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris; Synchronicity II (2012), Tiwani Contemporary, London; Alt-W: New Directions in Scottish Digital Culture (2008), Glasgow Centre of Contemporary Art; In the Centre Pompidou (2006), Centre Pompidou, Paris; and Bienal Internacional de Arte Contemporáneo (2006), Almería, Spain.

(Text: EVA 2016, Still (the) Barbarians, catalogue)


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