"I have always had a fragile understanding of the definition of 'home'."
Phoebe Boswell (b. 1982, Kenya), born in Nairobi to a Kikuyu mother and British Kenyan father, brought up in the Arabian Gulf, and now living and working in London, makes work anchored to a restless state of diasporic consciousness. Combining draftswomanship and digital technology, she creates immersive installations and bodies of work which layer drawing, animation, sound, video, and interactivity in an effort to find new languages robust yet open and multifaceted enough to house, centre, and amplify voices and histories which, like her own, are often systemically marginalised or sidelined as 'other'.
Boswell studied at the Slade School of Art and Central St Martins. She is currently the Bridget Riley Drawing Fellow at the British School at Rome, a Ford Foundation Fellow, and is represented in the United States by Sapar Contemporary, New York. Her work has been widely exhibited: with galleries including Kristin Hjellegjerde, Carroll / Fletcher, and Tiwani Contemporary; art fairs Art15, 1:54, and Expo Chicago; and has screened at Sundance, the London Film Festival, LA Film Festival, Blackstar, Underwire, British Animation Awards, and CinemAfrica amongst others. She participated in the Gothenburg International Biennial of Contemporary Art 2015, the Biennial of Moving Images 2016 at the Centre d'Art Contemporain in Geneva, and received the Future Generation Art Prize's Special Prize in 2017, consequently exhibiting as part of the Collateral Events programme at the 57th Venice Biennale.
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