Syowia Kyambi

Becoming Kaspale

Kaspale is a trickster character I have created and developed over the past two years, which started as an open-ended performance intervention and has developed into other mediums such as photography, collage, and film. Kaspale began as a way to intervene in spaces charged with colonial activities, to call out authority when necessary, and speak up when others cannot.

Artist Statement by Syowia Kyambi: For Unexpected Lessons – Decolonizing Memory and Knowledge, I will present a new iteration of Becoming Kaspale, live-streamed from Nairobi on June 12th, 7 pm.

Many ask “what is it you do when you perform? How do you do it? How do you become Kaspale?” A form of internal shedding takes place; the centre of me empties, making space for the energy of the other. This happens gradually, most often during the walk to the place where I will be performing. Sometimes this starts the night before, sometimes several days before. It’s a slow and quiet process. It is initiated the moment I start making practical plans to get into character. As I am stirring and preparing the red ochre, the emptiness in the centre of me, which was forming, becomes a clearly defined space within my core. I feel the familiar parts of me slip away temporarily, making room for another energy. I more clearly feel my breath, I become more attuned to the sensations on my skin, my ears search for rhythms around me to hold on to, patterns and rhythms become important anchors for my body and my energy. The rhythm of stirring the red ochre, the sound and action of the brush turning as the water is added creates a rhythmic atmosphere in my body, making room for me to entertain the joker within. The process of painting my fingernails starts. The repetition of the action is soothing and my perception of time becomes heightened. Anxiety increases as I apply the ochre on my skin, and the earlier emptiness, starts to get filled. My body is now open to embrace Kaspale. The final touch of creating the golden mouth is the last moment of full transition into character; once I have the golden mouth, I am Kaspale. Kaspale is more than one thing. Kaspale is I, and yet Kaspale is not I. Kaspale’s becoming is releasing me, Syowia, the person, the mother, the artist, the friend the lover to be free of self censorship, to shed what happens to a person who’s lived most of her life in a space where you are afraid to speak up and to speak out, told you don’t belong here and your not valuable. 

This silent video performance shares the process of becoming Kaspale. The film is shot from a bird’s eye view, its minimalistic describing the preparation of becoming Kaspale. This includes the painting of the toe and finger nails gold, applying the ochre and the golden mouth. Accompanying the works is a poem available in written form and as an audio file (Syowia Kyambi).



UNEXPECTED LESSONS — In Nairobi: »Becoming Kaspale« Performance by Syowia Kyambi