Two floral sculptures made of paper stand on separate yellow plinths in a gallery. The surrounding walls are painted the same yellow. The sculptures are two different phases of the peacock flower, and are intricate in their details and vibrant in colour.
Kapwani Kiwanga, The Marias, 2020, paper flowers. Installation view, at the formerly named Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, 2020. © Kapwani Kiwanga / SOCAN (2021). Photo: Kristien Daem. 

Kapwani Kiwanga honours ancestral knowledge in work

Kapwani Kiwanga is a Canadian artist based in Paris 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.

Two floral sculptures made of paper stand on separate yellow plinths in a gallery. The surrounding walls are painted the same yellow. The sculptures are two different phases of the peacock flower, and are intricate in their details and vibrant in colour.
Kapwani  Kiwanga, The Marias, 2020, paper flowers. Installation view, Remai Modern, 2021. ©  Kapwani  Kiwanga / SOCAN (2021). Photo: Blaine Campbell
A floral sculpture made of paper stands on a yellow plinth in a gallery. The surrounding walls are painted the same yellow. The sculptures are two different phases of the peacock flower, and are intricate in their details and vibrant in colour.
Kapwani  Kiwanga, The Marias, 2020, paper flowers. Installation view, Remai Modern, 2021. ©  Kapwani  Kiwanga / SOCAN (2021). Photo: Blaine Campbell
A group of four people stand in a gallery looking at a floral sculpture on a bright yellow plynth
Kapwani  Kiwanga, The Marias, 2020, paper flowers. Installation view, Remai Modern, 2021. ©  Kapwani  Kiwanga / SOCAN (2021). Photo: Blaine Campbell