Phoebe Boswell: For Every Real Word Spoken
From March 10 to April 22, 2017, Tiwani Contemporary will present For Every Real Word Spoken by Phoebe Boswell. Boswell is known for combining traditional draftswomanship and digital technology to create drawings, animations and installations, and will continue her exploration of this expanded field of drawing with For Every Real Word Spoken.
The exhibition gathers a series of new, near-life-size nude pencil portraits of the artist’s friends, fellow artists, curators and acquaintances, some of whom Boswell had worked with previously on her interactive installation Mutumia (2016), a salute to those in history who have used their bodies in protest when not permitted to use their voices. These new portraits show women standing up, holding their mobile phones to their chests as if to take a selfie, but showing the devices’ screens to the viewer in a pose inspired by Adrian Piper’s Food for the Spirit (1971).
Boswell has hand-drawn a code on each of the phone screens: when scanned with a mobile device, it will link online, revealing an article, image, thought, personal truth or observation directly chosen by the woman in the portrait. Each woman was also invited to choose the title of her portrait. Drawing on a lineage of black female literary and artistic ancestry, Boswell’s works will tell the stories of a networked community that cannot easily be contained within a single image.
The exhibition will thus strive to address and undermine the currency of the silent muse in art history: a woman typically shown as an object rather than possessor of the gaze. For Every Real Word Spoken will demonstrate that a body is never just a body, but a sign which is read according to categories of gender, family, race and so on, through which connections between groups are inevitably inferred. Varied societal approaches to the body, and the similarities as well as conflicts amongst them, therefore carry critical power in the way we relate and respond to one another.
The female body, especially the black female body, has a persistent stereotyped portrayal: of frailty, naivety, primitivism, vulnerability, victimhood, a body to be dominated or, indeed, a body to be ignored, one lacking in portrayal or visibility at all. The trans body tends to be situated even further outside these margins. In acknowledgement, Boswell’s portraits will highlight the materiality of the body, its composition as flesh and bone, its outline and contours, its weight, its individuality and history, revealing scars and marks, flaws and alterations.
In For Every Real Word Spoken, bodies are things that one inhabits, objects that others look at, which must bear the interpretation of others’ subjective standpoints. The relationship between viewer and model will be radically re-negotiated: standing in the presence of these women, the audience will be expected to acknowledge them fully by activating their speech. The women in the drawings are not passive models, but will confront the viewer, both with their bodies and their speech, as participants reclaiming their voice.
Boswell writes: ‘so many incredible women – artists, thinkers, and so on, came forward to be involved, and their participation has inevitably become part of the work’. For Every Real Word Spoken therefore, will shift the emphasis from the silent labelling of surveillance and the gaze, to the groupings that can be built through action, solidarity and speech.
Phoebe Boswell lives and works in London. Born in Nairobi to black and white Kenyan parents, and brought up in the Middle East, her history is rooted in transient middle points and passages of migration. She combines traditional draftswomanship and digital technology to create drawings, animations and installations; layered visual languages, through which she explores and communicates the complexities and multiple readings of our diasporic, fragmented narratives.
Boswell studied Painting at the Slade School of Art and 2D Animation at Central St Martins, London. She was shortlisted for the Art Foundation’s Animation Fellowship (2012), was the first recipient of the Sky Academy Arts Scholarship, and has exhibited with galleries including Carroll / Fletcher, Kristin Hjellegjerde, The Fine Art Society, Institute of International Visual Arts, Art15 and 1:54 art fairs. She participated in the Gothenburg International Biennial of Contemporary Art (2015), Biennial of Moving Images (2016) and is currently a Somerset House artist-in-residence. She was shortlisted for the Future Generation Art Prize (2017) and her British Council-commissioned film Dear Mr. Shakespeare, directed by Shola Amoo, was selected for the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.