Kapwani Kiwanga is a Canadian artist based in Paris. She has studied anthropology and comparative religions, which in turn inform her art practice. Kiwanga has explored the role that plants play in self-medication and self-protection, acknowledging the power of some plants to both poison the body and heal and preserve it. The Marias comprises two paper copies of the peacock flower (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) in two of its growth phases. The work materializes the research of 17th-century scientist and artist Maria Sibylla Merian and her groundbreaking 1705 publication Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium. The work also honours the ancestral knowledge and path of resistance that it records. Merian’s illustrated folio made note of how abducted and enslaved African women in Suriname (then a Dutch colony) had transported peacock flower seeds with them, hidden in their hair, to use as an abortive. At a time when Victorian women in Europe were making paper flowers as a pastime, others were using flowers as a form of embodied resistance.
The Marias is on view at Remai Modern until August 22, 2021, as part of the exhibition An apology, a pill, a ritual, a resistance.