The artist Kapwani Kiwanga has been in dialogue with curator and theorist iLiana Fokianaki, who was invited to organize this exhibition. They ask, “What is the role of plants in the histories of human struggle for liberation?” Here, the curator has written an introduction to the exhibition, as well as artwork labels.

This exhibition presents a new body of work by Kapwani Kiwanga, who lives and works in Paris. The work revolves around the epistemologies of botany, its histories and their relation to acts of resistance. The artist examines the role of plants in self-medication, subsistence, and self-protection, while considering plants as witnesses to human history. Kiwanga looks at how plants can metamorphose from pharmakon (medicine) to poison. For her, the tenuous balance between the two further highlights one other important concept: opacity, or, the visibility and invisibility of resistance. From seeds hidden in the hair of abducted people to flowers used as abortifacients, the relationship between botany and human defiance is key in this exhibition.

Scholars and theorists looking into the histories of racial inequality have proposed opacity as an expression of resistance. The Martinique-French theorist Édouard Glissant discusses opacity as the denial to be visible or to be understood and categorized. This line of thought was furthered by Afro-American writer Saidiya Hartman, who identifies opacity as obscurity and calls for “the right of obscurity to be respected.” Opacity/obscurity stands in stark contradiction to the hyper-visibility of the controlled body imposed by dominant narratives. It also runs against appropriating practices of exposure, demonstrated in the science of botany developed in the West from the 16th century onwards.

Kiwanga’s desire to unveil plants as protagonists of the “opacity of resistance,” links the histories of resistance from previous centuries to the modern histories of civil rights movements and the current anti-racist global movement. This Spring, Kiwanga and Fokianaki discussed creating an additional new work in response to current events. Their dialogue centered in bridging past and present acts of resistance, as well as bringing attention to racial violence and inequalities in the West and beyond. This new work draws inspiration from the seminal civil rights song, Mississippi Goddam (1964), written and performed by Nina Simone.

—With Thanks To:

Anouk Böhmer, Ifenin, Lisanne Ceelen, Nabou Claerhout, Lauriane Ghils, Marta Gonzalez, Bianca Sallons

—Supported by

AMMODO, Institut Francais des Pays-Bas, the Canada Council for the Arts, the artist’s fee is supported by the Mondriaan Fund (from the Experimental Regulations)