C&: Tell us a bit about your artistic background, how did you first get into sculptural work?
Arlene Wandera: I realised that I really loved art when I was 14 years old and decided that I would do everything in my power to sustain it. At 17, I abandoned any hope of going down the academic route and decided to go to art school.
But I don’t recollect pinpointing a particular moment where I thought: “This is it, sculpture is for me!” I just love every aspect of art making, learning new skills and challenging my own perceptions of what can or cant be done with objects, and materials. Any idea for an artwork always begins with a visceral response that leads to research and tactile sketching, i.e. manipulating objects and materials. And nine times out of ten, the tactile sketch becomes the final artwork.
Arlene Wandera. Centrepiece, 2016
C&: A central theme of your practice is the notion of nostalgia and personal history. Where does this focus stem from?
AW: I grew up in Nairobi and my family left for London when I was too young to acknowledge a sense of my cultural identity. So I spent a lot of my teenage years trying to be a typical Brit whilst simultaneously yearning for certain moments of my childhood that made me feel more Kenyan. I simply felt out of place.
Art school forced me to engage and deal with my identity. It was a rollercoaster of emotions and at the end of my four year stint at the Slade School of Fine Art, I realised that I actually sit between two cultures and decided to be comfortable in that position. This moment of clarity became the fuel for my current art practice.
C&: What will your contribution at the Kenyan Pavilion be about?
AW: The theme for the Kenya Pavilion is “Another Country” – a title taken from James Baldwin’s 1961 novel. I am interested in the idea of that “other country”. That space inside and outside the physical boundaries of geography, of personal and the universal experience, of multiple human emotions.
So, expect to see repurposed objects, one or two additions to the EverymenSeries. I will also be working with discarded and forgotten materials from Venice, London, Johannesburg and Aberdeenshire…and I’m really excited about that!
The Kenyan Pavilion is curated by Jimmy Ogonga and will be on show at the 57th Venice Biennale from 13 May 2017 till 26 Nov 2017 in Scuola Palladio, Giudecca.