Tarik Kiswanson / Becoming

26 apr18 jun 2023

Bonniers Konsthall is proud to present the artist Tarik Kiswanson’s largest solo exhibition in Sweden to date. In the last few years, Kiswanson has emerged as a seminal voice on the international art scene. In January 2023 he was nominated for the prestigious French Marcel Duchamp Prize. Despite his international presence, Kiswanson’s art has not been acknowledged here in Sweden until recently.

The exhibition Becoming at Bonniers Konsthall presents Tarik Kiswanson’s exceptionally multidimensional practice, which employs sculpture, writing, drawing, performance, and video to explore subjects relating to memory, heritage, time and belonging. Notions of rootlessness, regeneration and renewal form the core of his art, subjects that he constantly comes back to regardless of expressive means. A central theme in the exhibition, which features several new works, is the idea of levitation, which he explores as a psychological state of mind and as a physical phenomenon.

Kiswanson comes from a Palestinian family, which in exile from Jerusalem fled via North Africa to Jordan before ending up in Halmstad in the early 1980s, where he was born in 1986. At the immigration office, the family name Al Kiswani was transformed to the more Swedish-sounding Kiswanson.

My identity has been defined by several cultures, my abstract works stem from my own condition as a second-generation immigrant, shaped in the aftermath of displacement. Throughout my life, I have used sculpture and writing to explore transitory and interstitial states of the human condition. – Tarik Kiswanson

The philosopher Édouard Glissant’s ideas on identity as constructed relationally, which are expressed in his essay Poetics of Relation (Poétique de la relation, 1990), have had a profound influence on Kiswanson’s work. Glissant neither suppresses nor seeks reconciliation with a complex and multifaceted history but approaches it as a distinct condition from which we can gather the strength to move forward. The artist often reflects on the fragmented identities of the diaspora, examining what is lost and acquired intergenerationally through displacement and migration.

A key work in this exhibition is the family of works titled Nest (2020–2023), monumental sculptures resembling cocoons. These works were born from the artist´s deep interest in the subject of birth and metamorphosis, often explored in his practice through the prism of migration. When creating these works Kiswanson turned his attention to transformative states in nature, studying pupas, eggs and seeds, impressions that evolved into sketches of a shape floating somewhere between these references. A primordial form that evokes the idea of sheltering and becoming, but more importantly – possibilities. The exhibition spaces are painted the same colour as the sculptures, blurring the distinction between art and architecture. Placed at varying heights, they give the impression of having nested themselves to the walls and ceilings, summoning a spatial experience where the laws of nature seem to be absent.

In the first, smaller gallery at Bonniers Konsthall, Kiswanson has built an elevated room to materialise the idea of displacement and shelter. In this spatial installation is the work Cabinet (2019), three metal filing cabinets, objects that suggest the bureaucratic aspect of life. The work can be interpreted as an irretrievable or lost archive. In the artist’s different families of works the archive cabinet comes back as a symbol of both life and death – a reminder of how existence is conditioned within such objects and what living outside of it might mean. From the moment we are born, we leave an administrative paper trail that continues to exist long after death. In an evermore-technological society it is also an object in transit towards its own obsolescence.

Jacques Derrida speaks of the archive as a shelter and protection in his book Archive Fever from 1995, referring to the Greek origin of the word, arkheion, meaning house or abode. Derrida sees the archive as a protective inner space. Under the raised floor, the sculpture Cradle (2022), which the artist produced using his own body measurements, hovers as if in a phase of gestation.

In the same gallery, we find Homebound (2020), a small collage of a ship on a stormy sea. The image is turned vertically, and the ship seems to float upwards between sky and ocean. A circle has been cut out revealing a map of Halmstad – the city where Kiswanson’s family found a safe haven, and where the artist began his voyage into the world.

Placed at the end of a long hall, is the video work The Fall (2020), in which a boy tips on a school chair and falls backwards. The very brief moment has been filmed in slow motion; it is as if time has frozen, as we witness the boy suspended between floor and ceiling. Kiswanson reflects on the construction of identity and being in social, psychological and physical in-between states. From the same space we hear the sound work Shatter (2020), in which glass objects break in an infinite loop.

Kiswanson’s works converse over time and cultural divides. His recent work The Cradle (2023) finds its starting point in a photograph from 1986 depicting the artist’s mother leaning against a crib from Sweden’s most affordable furniture store (IKEA). The work consists of two parts, the crib of the artist’s childhood and below it a cocoon, the ensemble appears weightlessly pressed to the ceiling. The work evokes the uprooted condition the artist’s parents were in when they arrived in Sweden, their assimilation into Swedish culture and the identarian transformation that occurs with migration.

Kiswanson has created images using a lung x-ray machine that were transferred to canvas. A blown-up image of the blazer his grandfather wore when he left his native country is the solitary focal point in Grandfather’s Blazer (2022). Other works consist of compositions of layered clothing. In Passing Mother (2022), the artist worked with the textile collection of Hallands Konstmuseum. In the image a Swedish 17th century bodice is superimposed with the artist’s own zipped hoody and his mother’s embroidered Palestinian dress, passed down through generations. Together, they produce a weave of time, an image comprised of cultural attributes from different time periods and places. These works reflect on origin, belonging, differences and similarities. In the work Assembled Opacity (2022) all garments have been removed from the machine as it scans the void. The artist used the black film produced to create compositions of different opacities – like an abstract telling of that which cannot be told but only experienced.

The exhibition also includes earlier works Robe (2015) and Contact Sheet (2016), where the artist has polished sheets of stainless steel into shiny mirrored surfaces. According to Édouard Glissant, the mirror is a deceptive instrument that allowed Western philosophy to perceive the world as a reflection of its own image. But, Glissant argues, the mirror only gives the illusion of transparency, since it is actually opaque. Throughout the years the artist has used polished metal to create works that speak of the self, multiplicity, and transformation. In these reflective works everything become part of the artwork which exists in relation to everything that surrounds it: the everchanging light of the day, the architecture in which they are hung, the spectator looking at the work and the other art works hung in the same space.

Kiswanson recurrently processes private belongings from his family and the tacit memories these objects possess, like a silver spoon that travelled with the family through exile, or a floorplan of the small rental apartment in Halmstad where he grew up, reconstructed from memory. In works like Concealed, Anamnesis, Respite, In my blood and The accident (2020–2023), these objects have been encased in blocks of transparent resin. For the artist, these common but personal belongings are imbued with memories and help him access events of the past. They are the kind of objects we have all been in contact with at some point, objects that hold multiple symbolic values relative to memory, time, heritage, and death.

In the work Anamnesis (2022), the artist’s poems amongst other writings are recited by a ten-year-old, who moves through the exhibition spaces. The child is of an age that psychologists refer to as middle childhood. It is a time when the self is being constructed and children become aware of the world and their position within it. Language and memory are central in this work which examines the possibility of unknown histories being embedded on a deeper unconscious level. Anamnesis is a term used to speak of recollections of a supposed previous existences. Through recitation the child takes us back and forth in time and becomes a host of experiences and moments that precedes the child’s own existence.

From an early age, Kiswanson used writing as a way to understand and formulate his world. His poetry and writing are a parallel practice to his art. Though the two rarely co-exist, they inform each other on a deep level. In connection with the exhibition, the artist book Becoming will be published, giving personal insights into Kiswanson’s oeuvre through poems, family photographs and selected works.

In the exhibition Becoming, Kiswanson portrays the sensation of levitating, a moment of presence, a state between past and future. By using his own interstitial condition, he explores our existence as humans, and does so not only through the prism of identity formation, but also through the complexity of perception. The self is not static – we are constantly becoming.


Tarik Kiswanson (b. 1986) lives and works in Paris, and periods in Amman, Jordan. He received his Master in Fine Arts from École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts de Paris (2014) and his Bachelor in Fine Arts from Central Saint Martins – University of Arts London (2010).

Kiswanson’s latest exhibitions include Tamayo Museum, Mexico (2023), Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut (2022), MHKA – Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerpen (2022), Hallands Konstmuseum, Halmstad (2022) and Carré d’Art – Musée d’Art Contemporain de Nîmes, France (2021), Ural Biennial (2019), Performa Biennial (2019) and Centre Pompidou (2018). His work is represented in several collections, to name a few, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Hallands Konstmuseum, Halmstad and the Public Agency of Art, Sweden.