Phoebe Boswell is best known for combining traditional drawing with digital technology to create powerful images, animations and interactive large-scale installations. In her work she often references Black female theorists such as Audre Lorde (1934-1992) to question the misrepresentation of the female and the Black body in society and culture.
Her first major multimedia-installation The Matter of Memory, presented together with work by John Akomfrah and Rashaad Newsome at Carroll/Fletcher Gallery in 2014, explores the effect Kenya’s colonial past had on the often opposing childhoods of Boswell’s Kikuyu-Kenyan born mother and her British-Kenyan father by reinterpreting her parents’ memories from her perspective of a person who grew up removed from the site of her heritage.
The film Dear Mr Shakespeare (2016) is an imaginative conversation with William Shakespeare, exploring the racial tensions in the play Othello. At the same time, Boswell draws on her own experience of the art world to explore how anxieties around immigration and Blackness still resonate in the UK today. Dear Mr Shakespeare was commissioned by the British Council and the Guardian to commemorate 400 years since Shakespeare’s death and was selected for the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
The immersive installation Mutumia focuses on the naked female body as a site of resistance and power. ‘I wanted to make a work about women who use their bodies to protest when they are not permitted to use their voices’ is how Phoebe Boswell describes her work. Mutumia was originally created for the Biennale of Moving Images in Geneva in 2016 and was adapted on a larger scale for the Future Generation Prize in Kiev last year. In the exhibition space of the Future Generation Prize at the Palazzo Contarini Polignac during the last Venice Biennale, the viewer was surrounded by looped hand-drawn animations of 9 naked woman projected onto the wall of the gallery space. When walking over a floor fitted with hidden sensors, the audience activated a collaborative soundscape of multiple woman’s voices including a Gospel-choir, the Kenyan writer Wambui Mwangi reading from her essay Silence is a Woman (2013), as well as the portrayed woman themselves describing what it means to protest.
In her solo-show For Every Real Word Spoken (2017) at Tiwani Contemporary, the artist continued the crossover between traditional drawing and the virtual world and further explored the idea of the female body as a site of agency. The exhibition consisted of 8 life-size nude pencil portraits of the artist’s friends and family members, revealing each sitter’s bodily marks, scars and flaws in masterly detail. Each drawing depicts a woman up-front, holding her mobile phone to her chests as if to take a selfie. On each phone Boswell hand-drew a QR code that connects to a webpage containing articles, images, thoughts, personal statements and observations directly chosen by the woman in each portrait. The pose of the woman is inspired by US-American artist Adrian Piper’s seminal conceptual photo-series Food for the Spirit (1971), in which Piper photographed herself naked over the course of a month in order to question gender and racial disparities in society.
Boswell’s deeply intimate and emotional drawings of the female body are captivating and a rarity in the contemporary art world. Her portrayal of the Black and female body as an active agent rather than a silenced object, combined with her sophisticated take on 21st century social media communication and the virtual world, gives Phoebe Boswell a very distinct voice that is full of power and energy, making her one of the most interesting female artists currently emerging.
Phoebe Boswell was born in Nairobi, Kenya, raised in the Middle East and moved to London in 2000. After she graduated from the Slade School of Art with a BA in Fine Art Painting, she went on to study 2D Character Animations at Central St Martins College of Art. Since 2016 she is an Artist-in-Residence at Somerset House.
She was shortlisted for the Art Foundation’s Animation Fellowship (2012) and was the first recipient of the Sky Academy Arts Scholarship. She has exhibited with galleries including Carroll / Fletcher, Kristin Hjellegjerde, The Fine Art Society and InIVA, and at Art15 and 1:54 art fairs. She participated in the Gothenburg International Biennial of Contemporary Art (2015) and the Biennial of Moving Images (2016) at the Centre d’ArtContemporain in Geneva. She was shortlisted for the 2017 Future Generation Art Prize and won the Special Prize.
Boswell will have a solo-show in May 2018 at Sapar Contemporary in New York and a solo exhibition at Autograph, Rivington Place in November 2018.