ARTIST PROFILE: MIRIAM KINGS AND THE TEA FOR 216
Miriam is an artist and curator born in London who lived in Kenya from 1984-1991. Both her artistic and political interests are related to issues of human geography and community formation.
Tell me about your work? What are you currently working on? How is this different from past projects?
I have previously been involved in collaborative curating projects like Hackney Transient Arts Project (HTAP) (Hackney is a borough of London) which included editing talking heads interviews with Hackney residents on subjects such as what it means to call Hackney home, and conflict and displacement. We (HTAP) also curated – and participated in as artists – a mapping one day exhibition set out like a fêtê, where the visitor moved from stall to stall, adding to or engaging with the five artists’ maps. The authoriship in this event was blurred as some ideas were quite collaborative between artists, secondly the exhibition visitor was contributing to make the work. (i.e. thinking up words for a map, placing a counter on a board game, or bringing an object or photograph from their home to add to an installation.)
Participation and looking at the wider politics in how we conceptualise space and place are the two strands that link the projects done over the past 10 years. Each new project takes on a different form which is quite hard, you can’t say, I’m a painter, or I’m a sculptor. It’s also difficult to make a living from this kind of work.
How did you decide to become an artist?
When I was in art class at school I sat next to someone who was really talented at art I realized how much I wanted to be an artist. Art holds a unique space where it can communicate – separate to a commercial brief – using a visual response. A painting or a sculpture can change your mood for the whole day, perhaps the whole week- some works of art you never forget.
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
Someone told me to respect your own decisions as an artist. You made that decision for a reason at that particular time, so then to undo that decision you are backtracking and it’s lots of work to back track.
Many artists struggle to find ways to sell their art. How do you sell your work? How do you market yourself?
The last piece of work I sold was two weeks ago and the time before that I hadn’t sold anything since 2004. So I do other jobs to financially support myself. This has meant for the past 10 years I’ve been working two jobs, sometimes ridiculous hours per, week sometimes 80+. Any money raised from donors or sales would spent on the exhibition, the venue, the installation etc. This isn’t a great work/life balance as you’re always working, one job for the money, second job for art, to be involved in creating an exhibition somehow.
I have two blogs one more formal, www.miriamkings.co.uk and one for photography www.50shillings.wordpress.com, I market myself with these and also attend gallery events and openings of specific galleries I’d like to create a relationship with.
About Tea for 216
Before I arrived in Kenya I planned to make a video of the landscape of the valley I lived in for seven years in my childhood. I was inspired to use a technique used by artist Patrick Keiller’s work – a long shot that looks like a still photo, but as you watch it you realize it is a video. The view I planned was similar to the valley exhibition photo. The sound was going to be the natural valley sounds, birds, pigens hooting now and again, and the trees rustling. Due to various reasons I didn’t bring a video camera to Kenya so the work wasn’t realised. When I was shown the valley by Gacoki, who looked after me for five years of the seven, I took a photo of him looking out at the valley. This photo for me represents the epic, almost spiritual, nutrients the hills provide the community. The culture of shambas – integrated into Kenyan life. The fact that if you have a plot of land and don’t plant on it, you’re mad.
When I came back to Kuona after my trip I asked if I could exhibit the photos in the gallery and kuona said ‘why not’ which was amazing to have a solo show. The photographs were taken on a camera phone. There are four themes that arise: The almost spiritual richness of the soil in the foothills of Mount Kenya – shamba culture-, womens cleansing actions of sweeping and cleaning, the role of women in church, and also, my perspective, the advantages we had as foreigners in a Kikuyu community. This is represented by my inclusion of a photo of a photo album photo. The advantages we had, and I experienced when travelling back to visit, constrasts significantly with the difficulty that foreigners have when visiting or living in the UK.
Who are some of the Nairobi/ Kenyan artists you enjoy?
James Muriuki has some beautiful photographs and bagged some interesting projects. Poet, actress, performer Ngwatilo Mawiyoo is very cool. I really enjoy Cyrus Kabiru’s work, it is utopic asthetically but also conceptually – in the sence that it is fantastical, and the same time critical of the throwaway culture of the world. Some art ou just see and love, and it grows on you. With the matatu’s by Dennis Muraguri it was both. I like that each painting is of that particular moment in the life of a particular matatu or street scene. The paintings are are firstly satirical and fun, secondly, hopeful, holding contemporary Nairobi in a political story.
if I were to follow you around to see art in Nairobi, which places would we go? What would we see?
Kuona Trust, Go Down Arts centre, Talisman. Nairobi National Museum, Village Market, Red Hill Gallery, Maasai Mbili, all good places.
In addition to www.kuonatrust.org, where do you go online for good art resources, whether to find a new artist, or to see what is going on in the art world locally and otherwise?
In Nairobi there are a few good blogs to find what is going on in the arts scene, mainly on facebook though- kuona always updates facebook regularly! Otherwise in the uk, http://www.artrabbit.com/ which is a website that shows art shows going on.
Do you have any exhibits to promote in the near future?
Yes tomorrow I’ll have a private view of some photographs. Its only in a storage room that we have painted white, we call it The Cloud Gallery, a bit like a square cloud- it’s quite small, but it works. I am working on a new blog at the moment, www.50shillings.wordpress.com, it’s a kind of sketchbook photographs- you can sign up to ‘follow’ the blog- and it will notify you when new pictures are posted.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
I’d like to continue with Photograph series.
Parting shot, Miriam Kings with Kuona artist Omosh Kindeh during the ‘Tea Time for 216′ party