Miriam Syowia Kyambi

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Miriam Syowia Kyambi
Miriam Syowia Kyambi

EducationB.A. in Fine Arts at School of the Art Institute in Chicago
Known formulti-media artist
Awards-2nd place in UNESCO Award for the Promotion of the Arts

-the Art in Global Health Grant from the Wellcome Trust Fund in UK

-a grant from Mexico's external Ministry of Affairs

Miriam Syowia Kyambi is a multimedia artist. She is of Kenyan and German heritage and based in Nairobi, Kenya.[1]


Miriam Syowia Kyambi was born in 1979 in Nairobi, Kenya. She attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Fine Arts where she obtained her B.A. in 2002. She returned to Kenya in 2003.[2][3]

Her work combines the use of performance along with mediums such as clay, sisal, paint and photography. Most of her work analyzes perception and memory. Kyambi examines how modern human experience is influenced by constructed history, past and present violence, colonialism, family and sexuality.[2]


Kyambi has many works that have been shown in Belgium, Finland, Kenya, Mali, Mexico, South Africa and in the United States of America. She aims to engage the viewer in a dynamic process that will leave them with a powerful visual impression that they will always remember.

  • Fracture I, 2011, installation & performance
  • Pata Picha
  • Between Us, 2014, installation & performance
  • Permiso: Peep Box, 2009, mixed media installation
  • Gloves II, 2012, photography
  • Infinity - Flashes of the Past, 2007, permanent installation
  • Portals (I) Houses of the Present Past, 2010, mixed media installation
  • Moments (I), 2011, performance & photography
  • Infinite Consciousness, 2012, photography
  • What Cultural Fabric?, 2010, photography
  • Permiso: Excuse Me, 2009, photography

Fracture I (2011–2015)[4][edit]

Fracture I is a performance art piece that was viewed in the Kouvola Art Museum that was first performed at its opening on 29 April 2011. The performance lasted roughly one hour.[5]

According to Johanna Vuolasto, who is a curator at the Poikilo Kouvola Art Museum, in this performance, Kyambi uses the female body to transcend her message of how individuals store their experiences, good and bad, and continue to live their lives. Kyambi explores the question of what will happen to humanity if people cannot process those abhorrent experiences or mourn the lives they have lost.[5] Kyambi believes that people living in fear deserve a chance to be themselves. She says that the desire for justice is universal.[5]

Vuolasto also said that the narration of the performance was strong, dexterous but also simplified in a way. Kyambi allowed herself to go through an agony that she allowed to spread through the audience and it constructed a dialogue between herself, the viewers as well as her narration. At the conclusion, Kyambi faced the agony of the past and relinquished the portrayal that she had built and accepted the feelings of sorrow and agony. Within that process, Kyambi was able to rediscover what was once her life. By this time, the audience stood awestruck. Vuolasto said that some audience members returned frequently to see it and others wept openly because they understood the message that Kyambi was trying to get across.[5][6]

Between Us (2014)[edit]

This piece is an experimental multi media production that incorporates performance, installation, photography and video.[7]

In this work, Kyambi collaborated with another artist and choreographer James Mweu, along with dancers from the Kunja Dance Theatre to help her perform and create material that centralizes her personal, contemporary viewpoints; such as the body, gender issues and social perception.[7]

Kyambi and her dancers performed this piece over a period of four weeks and their final performance was held on 5 July 2014. This performing art piece was hosted at GoDown Arts Centre in Nairobi.

Permiso: Peep Box (2009)[edit]

This project is a mixed media installation and sculpture work. Kyambi spent a lot of her time in Mexico observing people. She came to the conclusion that certain positions and gestures can mean one thing but when you put them in a different context, they can mean something totally different. She compares that to her art. That if you shift the art, the same gesture can be read differently. It is about presentation.

Her aim is for Peep box to illustrate the perceptions of moments.[7]

Gloves II (2012)[edit]

This is a series of work that is photography-based. Kyambi collaborated with James Muriuki. They used sterile gloves because they were a material that they noticed a lot in the hospital section as well as in laboratories during their research at KEMRI.[7] Kyambi observes that they are a material that protects as well as creates a barrier.

Kyambi and Muriuki then started to explore how they could use the gloves as a form of art and visual conduit. They threw the gloves up in the air and watched them fall naturally. As they did so, Muriuki saw the light though the gloves as they took pictures of them in mid air. This process started their series the Conjured Paths, Skies, Herbs, and Gloves.

This project was made during the Art in Global Health Residency which was part of the Wellcome Collection Grant in 2012.

Infinity - Flashes of the Past (2007 - current)[edit]

The images used in this work were scanned from the Nairobi National Museum's archive department. Kyambi used records going as far back as 1898 until current times.[7] The images that she used in this piece were used to combine normal everyday life with political figures and monumental moments in Kenya's history.[7]

Portals (I) Houses of the Present Past (2010)[edit]

This work consists of earthenware ceramic work with sisal rope, hessian cloth and Christmas lights. Kyambi visited the places that inspired this work such as the Fort Jesus Museum, Mombasa, the Kilifi Sisal Plantation Farm, Kilifi, the Karen Blixen Museum, Nairobi, and the Kenya Railway Station and train line from Nairobi to Mombasa.

This was part of the My World Images Festival 2010.[7]

Moments (I) (2011)[edit]

During Kyambi's process of breaking clay pots during Fracture (I), the red paint inside caused her to instinctively walk around in circles in the aftermath of her performance right outside her studio.

These images capture a "moment of leaving marks, footprints which is more interesting than the performance itself", says Kyambi.[7]

Infinite Consciousness (2012)[edit]

This piece is part of a series of works that was collaborated with James Muriuki. They were interested in the relationship between health researchers based in Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and their relationship with the participants in their studies.

This project was made during the Art in Global Health Residency which was part of the Wellcome Collection Grant in 2012.

What Cultural Fabric? (2010)[edit]

Kyambi says that the images were close-ups of a shirt that belonged to her mother. The shirt becomes a fabric and could be mistaken for hessian cloth. This shirt symbolises growth, agriculture, construction and interior decorating.

This work was shown at the Nairobi National Museum.

Permiso: Excuse Me (2009)[edit]

This work is an exhibition that was born after a two-month trip to Mexico City. There, Kyambi researched the connections between Mexican visual, social, and historical cultural influences in comparison to Kenya's cultural history.


Miriam Syowia Kyambi has had 10 exhibitions with some of them being solo.

  • Ven är staden? Who is the city?, Center for Architecture and Design, Stockholm, Sweden, 2013–2014
  • Foreign Bodies/Common Ground Wellcome Collection, London, United Kingdom, 2013–2014
  • 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, London, United Kingdom, 2013
  • Layers, Nairobi National Museum, Kenya, 2012
  • The Fair Brunef, Roots Contemporary Gallery, Brussels, Belgium, 2012
  • ARS 11, Poikilo Kouvola Art Museum, Kouvola, Finland Kenya, 2011
    • This exhibition was organized in cooperation with Kiasma, the Museum of Modern Art in Helsinki. ARS is the biggest modern art festival in the Nordic countries. It was first launched in Ateneum Art Gallery in 1961. This exhibition is the 8th ARS exhibition and also a 50th jubilee exhibition.[5]
  • SPace: Currencies in Contemporary African Art, Museum Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2010

Solo exhibitions[edit]

  • Permiso: Excuse me, Nairobi National Museum, 2010
  • Cross Cultural Connection, La Casa de San Fernando, D.F Mexico City, Mexico, 2009
  • WoMen, Fraulein, Damsel & Me & Domestic Violence, Rahimtulla Museum of Modern Art, Nairobi, Kenya, 2008


  1. ^ "Miriam Syowia Kyambi - Queer (In-)Visibilities in the art of Africa and beyond - Wikis der Freien Universität Berlin". wikis.fu-berlin.de. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Syowia Kyambi". www.syowiakyambi.com. Archived from the original on 23 November 2015. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
  3. ^ "Interview with Miriam Syowia Kyambi". Goethe-Institut. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  4. ^ Mitic, Ginanne Brownell (1 October 2015). "Curator Puts Contemporary African Art on the Map". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Syowia Kyambi". www.syowiakyambi.com. Archived from the original on 22 August 2015. Retrieved 15 October 2015.
  6. ^ "6 Feminist African Artists Changing The Body of Contemporary Art". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h "Syowia Kyambi". www.syowiakyambi.com. Archived from the original on 22 August 2015. Retrieved 16 October 2015.