Kapwani Kiwanga. Photo: National Gallery of Canada/MIV.

Kapwani Kiwanga Wins 2020 Prix Marcel Duchamp

Canadian-born multidisciplinary artist Kapwani Kiwanga has won the prestigious Prix Marcel Duchamp for her sculptural series “Flowers for Africa,” which addresses African independence. The $41,000 prize, France’s top art honor, is awarded by the Association for the International Dissemination of French Art (ADIAF).

Kiwanga, who lives in Paris, studied anthropology, and often brings her training in this field to bear on her work, which among other media encompasses photography, film, installation, and sculpture, often in the service of amplifying the legacies of colonialism. “Flowers for Africa,” which she began in 2013 while living in Dakar, Senegal, re-creates floral arrangements appearing at various diplomatic events associated with freedom ceremonies throughout the titular continent. To make the works—of which there are fifty-four, one for each African country—Kiwanga carefully notes the construction of the floral arrangements present at each event, then commissions a professional florist to re-create the arrangements based on archival photographs. These often-massive bouquets are displayed upon plinths and wilt over the course of an exhibition, evoking the tradition of the vanitas.

“It was important for me not to do a work about monuments or commemoration but for it to embrace the idea of change and reinterpretation. I try with my artworks to propose ‘exit strategies’: new ways of thinking, embracing this flux and wilting, asking for complexity and to make an invitation to think about these past moments,” Kiwanga told The Art Newspaper.

“The richness and complexity of Kapwani Kiwanga’s project, bordering on a reflection between anthropology and art, opens up a vast poetic and political program, a true laboratory of today’s thought on memory and archives as sources of the world’s transfiguration,” said Bernard Blistène, director of the Centre Pompidou and chair of the prize jury, in a statement.

An exhibition of work by Kiwanga and this year’s prize nominees—Alice Anderson, Hicham Berrada, and Enrique Ramirez—as well as that by previous prizewinners is on view at the Pompidou through January 4, 2021.