"I have always had a fragile understanding of the definition of 'home'."
Phoebe Boswell (b. 1982, Kenya) lives and works in London. Born in Nairobi to a Kikuyu mother and fourth generation British Kenyan father, and brought up as an expatriate in the Middle East, she combines traditional draftswomanship and digital technology to create drawings, animations and installations. Boswell studied Painting at the Slade School of Art and 2D Animation at Central St Martins, London. Boswell was nominated/shortlisted for the Art Foundation's Animation Fellowship 2012, was the first recipient of the Sky Academy Arts Scholarship, which she used to produce her immersive installation The Matter of Memory, which she first showed alongside John Akomfrah and Rashaad Newsome at Carroll / Fletcher Gallery, London in 2014. She participated in the Gothenburg International Biennial of Contemporary Art 2015 and the Biennial of Moving Images 2016 at the Centre d'Art Contemporain in Geneva, and has exhibited at Art15, 1:54 London and New York, and galleries including Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, The Fine Art Society, and New Art Exchange. Dear Mr Shakespeare, her Guardian / British Council commissioned short film collaboration with filmmaker Shola Amoo (in which she wrote, performed, and animated) was nominated for Best International Short at Sundance 2017, she is currently one of the artists-in-residence at Somerset House Studios, and her solo show For Every Real Word Spoken opened last week at Tiwani Gallery, London.
Central to Phoebe Boswell’s work is the state of diasporic consciousness. The remnants of imperialism, and later technological advancement, mean the world is now the most connected it has ever been, and its people the most fluid, displaced and dispersed. Conditions of diaspora is an ongoing, yet under-examined state of being. Although Boswell was born in Nairobi, she was brought up in the Arabian Gulf. Growing up as an expatriate, she reveals that she felt, “amputated from Kenya, in a way,” admitting, “I do not exist there, it is not my place.”
The fragility of her Kenyan identity, and this rootless aspect of her being, ignites her work with a delicate search for belonging, through which her art becomes a vehicle that drives her on her journey home. And even though she admits Kenya will never be home, her art enables her to channel this yearning, so that through it, she can get closer to her heritage, metaphorically. The words of James Baldwin are particularly crucial to Boswell's sense of belonging; "the place in which I'll fit will not exist until I make it."
A significant aspect of Boswell’s work is her ability to make a personal account collective, for she believes that “the most personal things are usually the most universal.” She sheds light on how particularly fragile it is to define oneself, and how we subsequently define our place in the world, revealing the complex nature of being, but also highlighting the links and differences that unite bodies of people. Central to Boswell’s artistic practice is her attention and commitment to the authority of history. She refuses to relinquish the past, instead taking it upon herself to take responsibility for collective memory, transforming personal experiences and histories into narratives - not only for her own benefit, but in the interest of her universal audience.
Eva Langret. Curator, Tiwani Gallery, London