The Armory Show is a big deal for every artist involved, but perhaps doubly so for Kapwani Kiwanga. The Canadian-Tanzanian artist has not one, but two, major installations in the multinational art fair.
One of her projects is the center-point of the fair’s “Focus: African Perspectives” section. Her family ties to Tanzania gave her a direction to go, and the installation uses one of the African nation’s main export crops – sisal. Her installation is large sheaths of the tough, fibrous plant fibers, looking like pale animal pelts. The sisal plant is never used as itself, only as a component of ropes or twine or carpet. That and the plant’s organic nature appeal to Kiwanga. She calls the un-processed sheaths “a liminal space.”
Kiwanga’s other project, displayed in a booth operated jointly by her Paris and Berlin galleries, is a single, massive photograph with an eerie story. The photo, which she discovered in the United Nations photo archive, seems very plain at first glance. It’s a pair of chairs, a glass-topped table, and a leopard-skin rug. There are few details – some art on the wall, a plant on the table. But the setting of those scarce details is the 1961 chambers of the late Swedish Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, and the photo was taken about two weeks before Hammarskjöld’s mysterious death. She’s brought that story back into the still photo with a video work, depicting her hands shuffling around photos while she narrates stores – some factual, some fictional.
Kiwanga wants both of the installations to inspire a feeling of discomfort, of things left unfinished or not quite begun.
Her art and all of the art of the Armory Show is on view through May 6 at Piers 92 and 94, New York City.