Kapwani Kiwanga

The Length of the Horizon


– 25.08.24

For her first major exhibition in Scandinavia, the internationally renowned artist Kapwani Kiwanga (b. 1978) explores social mechanisms and power dynamics through large-scale installations of plants, foliage, sand, colour and light. Just below the surface of Kiwanga’s seductively beautiful works lurk critical themes. Plants tell toxic stories of power imbalances, colours have manipulative effects and light is investigated as a political instrument.

The Length of the Horizon presents a delicate flower on a pedestal bathed in a vibrant yellow environment. The vivid yellow alludes not only to the sunlight required for a plant to grow, but also to stereotypical representations of cheerful tropical sunshine. Showcased are Kiwanga’s two paper versions of the peacock flower (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), with its characteristic green leaves, orange-yellow flowers and long, red stamens. Meticulously rendered at two different stages of growth, they reveal the contrasting historical uses of the flower. Reputed to induce abortion, the decorative plant was a means of resistance and self-determination for people living in the conditions of slavery and indigenous populations in Suriname. Beautifully crafted in paper, Kiwanga’s work alludes also to a pastime in Victorian England, where women of means would craft paper flowers, to decorate their homes. Spotlighting this ornamental plant, Kiwanga lays bare the stark contrast in living conditions between women in imperial England and those living in a colonial territory like Suriname.

Stretching across CC’s two biggest halls and 1600 m2 of space, the exhibition unfolds in a flow created by Kiwanga’s elegant handling of materials and their secrets. With her affinity for captivating, non-static experiences, the artist proposes fluidity as a sculptural principle in works permeated with the idea of continuous re-creation and adaptability.

Kiwanga, who has a degree in anthropology and comparative religion, makes poetic work exploring how objects detached from their original function are given new life in the exhibition space. Handled and displayed, they are distanced from their everyday use and their place in production.

Another work puts up walls of colour forming a 16-metre-long corridor. A recurring motif in Kiwanga’s art is disciplinary architecture – spaces designed to influence human behaviour. One section of the large installation pink-blue is painted in the colour known as Baker-Miller Pink. Purportedly reducing stress and lowering the heart rate, the colour has been used to calm prison inmates. The other section is bathed in blue fluorescent light of the kind installed in public restrooms to make veins harder to see and drugs more difficult to inject. The light is indirectly a tool for surveilling public spaces. In the installation, visitors feel these disorienting effects on their own bodies.

Kapwani Kiwanga knows how to entice aesthetically. The artist’s works offer one the opportunity to go beyond the sensual and visual appreciation to engage with historical sociopolitical dimensions, doubling the effect and giving Kiwanga’s works a lasting impact.

This exhibition is created in partnership with Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg in Germany. It is accompanied by a comprehensive, richly illustrated catalogue in Danish and English, featuring essays by Cecilia Alemani, Uta Ruhkamp, Julie Pellegrin, Andreas Beitin and Marie Laurberg. The catalogue is distributed internationally by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König, and is available in CC’s shop.

About Kapwani Kiwanga

Kapwani Kiwanga (b. Hamilton, Canada) is French and Canadian, she lives and works in Paris. Kiwanga studied Anthropology and Comparative Religion at McGill University in Montreal and Art at l’école des Beaux-Arts de Paris.

Kiwanga’s work traces the pervasive impact of power asymmetries by placing historic narratives in dialogue with contemporary realities, the archive, and tomorrow’s possibilities. Her work is research-driven, instigated by marginalised or forgotten histories, and articulated across a range of materials and mediums including sculpture, installation, photography, video, and performance.
Kiwanga co-opts the canon; she turns systems of power back on themselves, in art and in parsing broader histories. In this manner Kiwanga has developed an aesthetic vocabulary that she described as “exit strategies,” works that invite one to see things from multiple perspectives so as to look differently at existing structures and find ways to navigate the future differently.

In 2022, Kiwanga received the Zurich Art Prize (CH). She was also the winner of the Marcel Duchamp Prize (FR) in 2020, Frieze Artist Award (USA) and the annual Sobey Art Award (CA) in 2018. She will represent Canada at the 60th International Venice Art Biennale in 2024. Solo exhibitions include Serralves Foundation, Porto (PR); Bozar, Brussels (BE); Remai Modern, Saskatoon (CA); Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg (DE); Capc, Bordeaux (FR); MOCA, Toronto (CA); Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich (CH) ; New Museum, New York (USA); State of Concept, Athens (GR); Moody Center for the Arts, Austin (USA); Haus der Kunst, Munich (DE); Kunsthaus Pasquart, Biel/Bienne (CHE); MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge (USA); Albertinum museum, Dresden (DE); Esker Foundation, Calgary (CA); Power Plant, Toronto (CA); Logan Center for the Arts, Chicago (USA); South London Gallery, London (UK) and Jeu de Paume, Paris (FR) among others.
She is represented by Galerie Poggi, Paris; Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, Cape Town and London and Galerie Tanja Wagner, Berlin.