Awuor Onyango is a writer and multidisciplinary artist, based in the pagan citadel of Nairobi, somewhat trained in English & French laws (Dip), Fine Art & Film (disc). Her practice is concerned with (re)claiming public space erased/appropriated and or disallowed to people considered black, femme and other, whether the space is intellectual, physical, in memory or historical. Through writing, design, photography, (experimental) film and fine art she explores issues of access, transgression, shame and discomfort of the (continental) black femme. Her multidisciplinary approach is rooted in the ephemeral, interactive and lived art traditions of East Africa, in which the seeking is supreme and the art object merely evidence of the seeking.
Recent exhibitions; Genesis: Autonomous bodies, Iwalewa Haus, Bayreuth, Germany (2018/19), 30 under 30.Kioko Mwitiki Gallery, (Nairobi, 2018), A Celebration of Queer Love, Iwalewa Haus,( 2018), Appropriation and other practises, HBK Braunschweig (2018), School of Anxiety, Jo’Burg Art Fair, Johannesburg (2017), Freedom Corner, Nairobi (2018), Berlin Biennale of Contemporary Art, Berlin (2018), Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain Pop Up, Nairobi, (2018), 27. Shift Eye Gallery, Nairobi, (2017).
Recent Publications: Shades of Noir ToR: Autonomy, Activism and Art Direction, UK, (2019), School of Anxiety (2018), Concerning Nuditude (2017),
Recent Film: Price Of Our Freedom (Udada Festival 2018), Reinventing the Cross (DLA 2018 VR longlist), 2035 (CMI 2018)
The Library of Silence
This is the refrain of the jazz inspired poem Limbé (pigments, 1937) by Léon Gontran Damas. It is also the space from which I
launch an inquiry into blackness and the feminine. In previous work (Miss Babe vs Mama Baby) I have questioned the fashioning
of the pre‐colonial female archetype that I have named Lawino (after Okot p’Bitek’s eponymous Song of Lawino). I have
questioned whether she was a non‐critical participant in society as her historicization often lends us to believe. If she had anything to say for herself. If she was just a black doll there to egg on the male freedom fighters or serve the children of the white colonial pageantry who were trying to rebuild a london in Nairobi. In this work I poke further into the artifice that is Lawino and her ghost. I question the link between the supposedly objective white gaze into culture and history, how it positions the black female body in this history and our own view of the black and feminine, often constructed under a post‐colonial nationalization project. Has this “objective” history trapped our perception of ourselves? Our blackness? Our womanhood? Who we invite into the category of woman?
Is there any hope for a return to yesterday? A conceptual piece, it stems from the absence of women in history books/ the male‐centric historic viewpoint that lauds the male ordinary but ignores the female extraordinary. The premise is that sometime in the future there will be such a library where the stories of the women themselves are lost but education departments have to prove that women existed during certain centuries. This results in the codification of this silence, a library that just shows the images and video evidence of the existence of black women without having any knowledge or background information about their lives and achievements. Depending on the era one is exploring, images will appear on the wall;
hopefully images that disrupt our imagining as far as (African) women in the precolonial/colonial and post‐colonial are
concerned. Women in miniskirts, in protest, holding machetes, smoking, women in defiance of the trope of the “Good African woman”, illusions of the near future where Beyonce plays Wangari Maathai in the biopic just as Madonna played Eva Peron etc. In this work I look into a future reality where the historicization continued and now all that is left is a faint attempt at saying “(Black) women existed when the men were fighting this war/building the new world/killing the old”.