Phoebe Boswell: For Every Real Word Spoken

9 March - 22 April 2017

For every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.

Audre Lorde

Tiwani Contemporary is pleased to present For Every Real Word Spoken, a forthcoming solo exhibition of the work of Phoebe Boswell. Boswell is known for combining traditional draftswomanship and digital technology to create drawings, animations and installations, and with For Every Real Word Spoken, Boswell will continue her exploration of this expanded field of drawing.

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. The pose is inspired by Adrian Piper’s Food for the Spirit, a series in which Piper periodically photographed herself over the month of July 1971, in front of a mirror, variously clothed and unclothed.

On each of the phone screens, Boswell has hand-drawn a code: 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.

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 or - more significantly - 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 and signifiers that 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. 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.

Surrounding the viewer, the work becomes an inversion of the Panopticon; these women, standing together and gazing inwards, will imbue the installation with the power of women’s activism, collectivism and collaboration. Boswell writes: 'so many incredible women (artists, thinkers, etc) came forward to be involved, and their participation has inevitably become part of the work'. For Every Real Word Spoken will therefore shift the emphasis from the silent labelling of surveillance and the gaze, to the groupings that can be built through action, solidarity and speech.