Brantford-bred artist wins France’s top art prize

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An artist who spent much of her childhood in Brantford won France’s top art prize.Kapwani Kiwanga received the 2020 Marcel Duchamp Prize, as well as a cash prize of $ 41,000, for his sculptural series, Flowers for Africa, which focuses on the presence of flowers at diplomatic events celebrating the independence of African nations.

“These key political moments in history, I’m going to take a picture from the archives and focus on the floral arrangements that are present,” explained Paris-based Kiwanga. “I take this photo to a florist, then I reinterpret this floral arrangement, which is then left in the exhibition space to fade and dry out. There is no intention of preserving it or keeping the flowers fresh. ”

Kiwanga said it was an ongoing project, having so far made sculptures for 16 of the 54 African countries.

Flowers for Africa by Kapwani Kiwanga is exhibited at the Center Pompidou in Paris, France.

Photo courtesy Galerie Poggi, Paris

“The richness and complexity of Kapwani Kiwanga’s project, bordering on a reflection between anthropology and art, opens up a vast poetic and political program, a veritable laboratory of today’s thought on memory and archives as sources. of the transfiguration of the world ”, declared Bernard Blistene, director of the National Museum of Modern Art and one of the seven jurors of the Marcel Duchamp Prize.

The 42-year-old artist, who also won the $ 100,000 Sobey Art Award in 2018, says the awarding of different awards allows him to reflect and appreciate “all the people who have contributed to the research, the people who have helped you in your life in so many ways, and those art professionals who have had the courage to invite you to put on a show or help you make new work.

Born in Hamilton, Kiwanga lived in Brantford from the age of eight until the age of 17. Although she received no formal arts education locally, she attended summer art camps at the Glenhyrst Art Gallery in Brant.

Kiwanga studied anthropology and comparative religion at McGill University in Montreal before enrolling at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

“I wasn’t really sensitive or involved in art until I arrived in Europe,” the artist said. “I lived in Scotland, where I worked as a television documentary maker, and was interested in going to museums and seeing different cultural offerings.”

Kiwanga has gained wide recognition with exhibitions in a number of prestigious galleries and museums across North America and Europe.

“Kapwani is one of Brantford’s most important artists and, like many of her generation, first received critical recognition outside of Canada,” said Glenhyrst curator Matthew Ryan Smith. “The Marcel Duchamp Prize is one of the most important awards in the world for a contemporary artist.”

Smith said that beyond the art world’s awards and rewards system, Kiwanga’s work is important for many other reasons.

“One of them is that it shapes a cultural philosophy or an aesthetic known as Afrofuturism,” he explained. “In short, Afrofuturism was born out of a desire to reclaim the historical injustices faced by black people and to redress them in meaningful ways that can benefit future generations. So, although the past may have been one of injustice, the future may be one of hope.

Kiwanga said she hopes her works will allow people to look at the past from a different perspective and work towards a future that could be better for everyone.

“My works have no particular message apart from looking at the diversity of history, bringing together all these small pieces to try to form a more complete story,” observed the artist.

Smith said Brantford is and has been home to artists of national and international significance.

“We have to celebrate this fact, to make it better known,” he said. “Kapwani Kiwanga and Wayne Gretzky should be spoken in the same breath.”

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