Malawian Visual Artist, kyle malanda (small caps intentional), explores the meaning of belonging through inevitable death and funeral rites. Most cultures within Africa have certain traditions and beliefs, especially pertaining to the death of an individual. Meticulous and quite specific customs interplay through out the funeral process, with even some individuals only being able to be buried in their village of origin due to the belief that their body belongs to their village and therefore must be returned back to it. The intricacies of what it means to belong, even after life on earth is one that is not only fascinating but also in some ways comforting.
“I moved around alot within Asia and the US and did not feel enough of anything. I engaged the question of belonging through the perspective of death, questions such as what will happen after I die and who will claim this body?” States kyle. Death in some Malawian cultures is a symbolic moment and is met with certain rituals such as dancing with animals skins or masks inspired by animals. kyle’s portraits taken of her sister wearing the skull of a cow and their Mothers dress, reflects certain ancestral beliefs elevating the viewer to a more spiritual experience of her work. The static nature of the subjects body whilst wearing the cow’s skull coupled with the setting which was on a land that kyle’s father inherited from his Mother, the ancestral motifs and themes of death and passing over into the afterlife are apparent throughout kyle’s images.
“Alot of my imagery comes from dreams and I have been dreaming alot about this, so I felt like I had to do service to these dreams. I make the work through ancestral communication, I often say that the experiences themselves are mine but the imagery dosent come from me” expressed kyle. The relationship between her dreams and her work comes into play through the surrealist and dreamlike tone of the images. When looking at the images, it is almost as if the viewer is slipping into a hypnagogic state, a moment of consciousness and then unconsciousness, which again, perfectly expresses the message that kyle is trying to highlight which is the intersectional state of someone being met by an ancestral spirit and then slipping from life into the afterlife.
“One of the difficulties I faced was sourcing the cow heads which were actual real cow skulls! My dad got two for me and my mum got one, and oh my god they stank! I had never cleaned a cows skull before and didn’t know the first thing about it, so that was a massive experiment for me.“ Shared kyle. She went on to explain “my dad was okay with it, but my mum believed that these were satanic symbols, so I then said to her that this is from your people! Unfortunately, this is one of the things that colonialism has done, it has demonised indigenous spirituality and so alot of people are not even familiar with their own customs anymore.” The depiction of that transition into the afterlife is reflected by a faceless woman ready to die. It imagines the journey of calling for death, the process of leaving the land of the living and acceptance into the afterlife.
kyle malanda is a Malawian Visual Artist whose work, primarily through photography and fashion design, explores the intersections of sexual identity, mental health, tribalism, and generational trauma in an increasingly globalised digital world.
Using her multi-cultural and transcontinental experiences as a queer Black woman, kyle's work is an autobiographical reflection of both society and the self. Visit her website to view more of her work.