Hiding in Plain Sight

Kapwani Kiwanga

b. 1978, Hamilton, Canada
Lives and works in Paris, France

Kapwani Kiwanga’s series of Linear Paintings uses the language of Minimalism to explore theories of color psychology and “disciplinary architecture.” As if removed from an existing wall, these paintings rendered on domestic sheetrock reference specific colors and combinations that, beginning at the turn of the 20th-century, were used in institutional settings as part of an effort to elicit various psychological and physiological responses. Kiwanga probes the effects of psychological theories of color created by scholars like Faber Birren and Alexander Schauss who created functional colors for institutions like schools, prisons, hospitals, and mental health facilities in her extensively researched works. Such theorists studied the roles that colors might play in hospitals, schools, and United States military facilities. The installation’s center line further delineates the two-color tones, accentuating the power divide between the institutional settings and the people within them, reflecting the division of social groups and hierarchies.

Kapwani Kiwanga, Linear Painting #11: Birren White -Turquoise (U.S Coast Guard's Shore Establishments), 2021, drywall, wood paint, 250 cm × 125 cm × 3 cm (8' 2-7/16" × 49-3/16" × 1-3/16"), Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Tanja Wagner, Berlin

In this group of paintings, the color principles are drawn from the US Coast Guard Paint and Color Manual, 1952-1965, for which Birren created an itemized color specification plan associated with every structure on the shore establishments. The color principles were designed for specific interior spaces based on technical studies in color and medical research on the visual and physiological effects of color on humans. Color standards were created for psychological relief from extreme temperatures, and the brightness and contrast of colors were chosen for their impact on vision and clear sight. With Federal Standard color codes, which are still used today by the US government for various institutions, a specialized range of soft toned colors were created for the interiors of Coast Guard shore establishments to avoid “needless emotional distraction and to resist soiling and abuse.”

Kapwani Kiwanga

Kapwani Kiwanga (b. 1978, Hamilton, Canada) lives and works in Paris. She studied at Le Fresnoy, Studio National des Arts Contemporains, France (2009), L’Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Paris (2005–2007), and Anthropology and Religions at McGill University, Montreal (1998–2002). Her recent and upcoming shows include Kapwani Kiwanga: Soft Measures, Glasgow International, United Kingdom (2018); Kapwani Kiwanga: Sunlight by Fireside, Musée de Joliette, Canada (2018); Kapwani Kiwanga: Safe Passage, MIT, List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge (2019); Kapwani Kiwanga: Plot, Haus der Kunst, Munich (2020); Kapwani Kiwanga: A Certain Distance, Centre d'art contemporain d'Ivry - le Crédac, Ivry-sur-Seine, France (2020). In 2020, Kiwanga received the Prix Marcel Duchamp Award (2020). She was also the winner of the annual Sobey Art Award (2018), the Frieze Artist Award (2018), Inaugural Étant Donnés Prize (2019), and the Golden Cube (2019), and the Kassel Documentary Film and Video Festival (2019). Her work resides in numerous public collections worldwide, including Museo de Arte Contemporanea de Castilla y Léon, Spain; Le Plateau, FRAC Ile-de-France, Paris; Centre National des Arts Plastiques, Paris; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Kadist Foundation, Paris; and MIT List Visual Arts Center, Boston, among others.