Phoebe Boswell: The Matter of Memory

Phoebe Boswell: The Matter of Memory Arena for Contemporary African, African-American and Caribbean Art
Amsterdam, Kingdom of the Netherlands

Yvette Greslé, Art Historian/Writer

Edited by Rob Perrée

Phoebe Boswell. ‘The Matter of Memory’, 2013-14. Installation view at Carroll/Fletcher [detail]. Courtesy the artist and Carroll/Fletcher.

I settle into an armchair and am surprised by voices audible from a mechanism buried in the fabric. I hear the voice of the artist, Phoebe Boswell, but also simultaneously, the voice of another. I discover that the chair on the right hand side (as I face the screen) transmits the voice of Boswell’s mother; and the other that of her father. Each parent narrates their memories of life in Kenya, where both were born, raised and married. As they narrate, their child (the artist) repeats their words. This device of multiple, simultaneous narration, does not obscure the speech of each. When the father pauses, the daughter pauses, when the mother sings, the daughter sings. This is a work of memory, a deliberate, staged act of remembering, but it is also a work of familial intimacy. The daughter appears to cherish the memories of the parents, repeating them so as not to forget. This gesture is poignant, it resists erasure and forgetting, and anticipates the inevitability of loss.

The armchairs, with their audio, are titled ‘When I Hear My Own Voice, I Can Hear Kenya’ (2013/14). These sound-objects are an important component in what is an immense spatial installation occupying the whole of the basement level of the Carroll/Fletcher Gallery. Titled ‘The Matter of Memory’ the work encompasses sound, looped projections, animations, objects, and drawings. It embodies the existence of multiple, simultaneous narratives functioning strategically to oppose assumptions about the world in which we live. Deeply sedimented racial prejudices that still hold the world in their thrall are potently countered and resisted. Boswell’s ‘The Matter of Memory’ draws attention to the continued critical significance of human subjectivity, and memory-work, as a counterpoint to the tyranny of singular, overarching narratives…

…Narratives of multiple-heritage and displacement are ones that many twenty-first century subjects, emerging out of historical conditions of travel and migration, can relate to. Boswell’s British-born, Kenyan father, is a fourth generation Kenyan settler and her mother is Kikuyu Kenyan. Visual significations of colonial settler life into which the artist’s father was born, and the Kikuyu Kenyan heritage of her mother is present throughout the installation. The story of this family is one wound up in migration: Boswell who moved to London in 2000, was born in Kenya but grew up in the Middle-East. She now lives and works in London having studied painting at the Slade School of Art and 2D Character Animation at Central St Martins. ‘The Matter of Memory’ invites us into the most intimate spaces of Boswell’s family history. It speaks about the presence of love despite the borders dreamed up by the historical obsession with racial difference. But this work is certainly no idealistic account of the transcendent capacities of love in conditions of trauma and social and political violence. Kenya inhabits the memories and the emotional life of mother, father and daughter who negotiate belonging, displacement, and ideas of ‘Home’….

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,