What does it mean to feel at home? This is the complex question at the centre of Phoebe Boswell’s (b. 1982) award-winning practice. Born in Nairobi but brought up in the Arabian Gulf, the artist recalls having felt “amputated from Kenya.” Art became the vehicle driving her search for a sense of home, leading to the creation of such works as I Dream of a Home I Cannot Know (2019), now on view at Nottingham’s New Art Exchange. Captured from the same place on the same beach over the course of six years, the film documents everyday life in East Africa – the closest place the artist could consider to be home, but a place that, “like the tide, is impossible for her to hold.”
NAE presents an exhibition of the artist’s wider work, combining draftswomanship with digital technology. By layering drawing, animation, sound, video and interactivity, Boswell aims to find a language to, as the gallery explains: “house, centre and celebrate the nuance and complexity of communities, voices, hearts and histories which, like her own, are often systemically marginalised, simplified, pacified, homogenised or sidelined as ‘other’.” One such example Is the immersive installation Mutumia (2016), which combines hand-drawn animation, interactivity and recordings of women from different backgrounds, nationalities and generations. It is dedicated to those who have used their bodies in protest when not allowed to speak out.
Transit Terminal (2014 – 2020) is equally powerful. The sculptural drawing, which is pictured at the top of the page, comprises 12 charcoal figures, each occupying a purpose-built box the same dimensions of an average adult coffin turned upright. The installation addresses global migration and notions of “(un-)freedom and uprootedness,” something which is deeply personal to Boswell. “Owing to a personal history rooted in colonial traces and contradictory legacies – upheavals, dualities, geographies, kinships, liberations, silences and shifts of migration,” NAE explains, “Boswell describes her work as a navigation of the space between, anchored to what she refers to as a ‘restless state of diasporic consciousness.’”” It’s an installation that draws into question our ideas of national identity and belonging. The figures in Transit Terminal are seemingly held in limbo –hovering between here and an unknown destination. What connects these works is the importance of recognising all individuals, identities and communities – making space for their stories and uplifting their voices. It’s a crucial message for our times.
Until 24 July. Find out more here.
1. Here, Phoebe Boswell. Installation view, New Art Exchange 2021. Photo by Reece Straw.
2. Portrait of Phoebe Boswell.
3. Here, Phoebe Boswell. Installation view, New Art Exchange 2021. Photo by Reece Straw.