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  Rose is a character I created for a previous work, Fracture (i) [1]. She is struggling with coping in her current environment, Metz, a small town in France. The digital collages portray her in this town with superimposed images of memories of her mother’s home. A series of five works are presented in a golden frame that is reminiscent of the kinds of frame that a middle class Kenyan household might use, to present images of their family members. As much as living overseas often is seen as a great accomplishment, it is also often presents a great burden, and can provoke feelings of isolation and loss for many.

In Kenya and specifically in the capital city, Nairobi, there is a narrow viewpoint on what it is to be successful. Generally, success is measured with materialism that stems from capitalistic ideals. This current construction includes a value system based on communal identity, the result of which often creates violent and vulnerable circumstances.


My work references colonialism, as well as transformation and the contemporary situation. It navigates society – the idea of what you should or shouldn’t be, how you present yourself, and the burden of assumptions in our social environment.


I use photography to document objects that have personal symbolism for me, often zooming in and highlighting details. This is the core of my photographic process. These photographs in turn are reconstructed and incorporated into final installation and performance works and more recently in the digital collage series, Rose’s Relocation. In contemporary Kenya photography is a readily accepted technique that spans across most economic and social sectors. 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 engaged with via television and social media platforms. Photographs penetrate home life; they are a portal into a past time and ultimately create feelings of nostalgia as well as future aspirations.


In the work Fracture (i) ‘Rose’, who wants to make it in the capital city, comes from Kirinyaga, a rural town near Embu (approximately 3 hours away from Nairobi). Within the installation/performance of Fracture (i) a slide projection of photographs referencing Rose’s memories of her mother’s home and it’s surroundings is present. Rose dresses up for work, is barely able to greet people, repeatedly falls down, and stumbles upon the remains of broken bloodied ceramic vessels. She mourns the loss of her culture and her identity 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 her past, forsakes the role she built for herself and accepts the feelings of sorrow and agony. Through this process she is able to rediscover her life.


Rose is a person that you find often in urban spaces around the world; a person struggling to keep up appearances, striving to obtain the latest gadgets and she is grappling with making sense of her life. The series Rose’s Relocation takes the character a step further. Rose has now not only moved from being lower class to middle class, she is living the dream of being overseas. Yet here too as in Fracture (i) she navigates her new European small town environment and is facing the pressures of materialism, family expectations and knowing her identity, fighting with the psychological framework of her circumstances.

- Syowia Kyambi






[1] Kouvola Art Museum, Finland (2011) / WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Belgium (2015)/ Konsthalle Lund, Sweden (2015)/ 49 Nord 6 Est FRAC Lorraine, France (2015)/ EVA International Biennial, Ireland (2016).







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*** All rights reserved to the artist, do not use any of the material presented without previous written consent. Copyright: Syowia Kyambi, 2016


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