Bernard Blistène, the director of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, said in a statement, “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.”
Kiwanga’s work spans sculpture, installation, photography, film, and more, and has often relied on anthropology to make visible histories of colonialism. For one of her most famous works, an ongoing performance piece called Afrogalactica that she began in 2011, she takes up the role of an anthropologist from the future sent to study African astronomy and gender identity today. And for “Flowers for Africa,” the sculptural series that won her the prize, she researches the independence ceremonies for African countries and rigorously recreates the flower arrangements that appeared at them.
The prize comes as the 42-year-old aritst’s career is on the rise. In 2020 alone, she has had solo shows at the Haus der Kunst in Munich and the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam (which has plans to change its name in 2021), among other institutions. In past years, her work has also appeared in the Toronto Biennial of Art, the Bienal de São Paulo, and the Eva International Biennale in Limerick, Ireland.
Kiwanga won the award over artists Alice Anderson, Hicham Berrada, and Enrique Ramirez. The jury that selected Kiwanga was composed of Blistène; Gilles Fuchs, the president of the Association for the International Dissemination of French Art (ADIAF), which administers the prize; art historians Chris Dercon and Marie-Cécile Zinsou; Michèle Guyot-Roze, the president of the Fondation Hippocrène; Gitte Ørskou, the director of the Moderna Museet in Sweden; and Akemi Shiraha, a representative for ADIAF.
Past winners of the Prix Marcel Duchamp include Kader Attia, Latifa Echakhch, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Thomas Hirschhorn, and Melik Ohanian.