TRACING PRESENCE by Elizabeth Kwant

Tracing Presence are a series of acrylic and charcoal paintings created from 2012- 2013 when Kwant was Artist in Resident at The Boaz Trust and The Mustard Tree, both Christian charities serving destitute asylum seekers and refugees across Greater Manchester. As part of the daily flow of the community, Beth produced this life size series of portraits over the course of the year in response to the stories she heard from female asylum seekers.

Artist Statement:

Tracing Presence was produced in partnership with The Boaz Trust & The Mustard Tree:  charities  working on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers in Manchester. 

From 2012-2013 Kwant participated in an Artist in Residence at The Mustard Tree. Being  part of the  daily  flow of the community, she produced these large scale portraits in response to the stories she heard from female asylum seekers. The series is comprised of ten portraits; representing the countries of Sudan, Iran, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Zimbabwe. Each portrait is the product of an initial photo shoot with the women, then continued discussion over the course of the residency.  

It is important to note that the residency arose organically, after Kwant had facilitated a number of community art workshops with female clients as part of The Boaz Trust’s  Five  Ways to Wellbeing. “As the workshops ended I approached the Trust to ask if any of the  female clients would like their portrait painted. I asked women who had attended the community arts workshops, women who I knew by name. I wanted to tell their story visually. To honour them and give them dignity through the paintings.” Each of the portraits are comprised of an empty chair, which was significant symbolically for Kwant:  

“To me, the chair is a symbol of community. The table is the place where we eat together, we laugh, we talk, we partake in community around the table. To be seated in community is to be part of society.  At that time, the women were failed asylum seekers, meaning their asylum claims (and their stories) had been rejected. They were literally standing, waiting to be seated.”

The paintings open up a space to question stereotypes, consider displacement and provide agency to the women represented. Installed in an urban context or here at St Ann’s Church, the women become a “presence” in a society which denies their existence and questions the authenticity of their claims.  

“Kwant’s work is an ongoing exploration of the politics of representation. A multi- disciplinary artist she frequently employs layering techniques; screen-printing and collage  into her paintings alongside her own photography, challenging dominant stereotypes by re-presenting and re-interpreting the narrative. For the past five years her work has focused upon migration, and the socio-political effects of displacement. Working directly with asylum seekers and with appropriated media images, a visual journalist, she has become   increasingly interested in the relationship between the built environment, communities and   our personal migration stories.”

Kwant, a talented visual artist received an MFA with distinction from Edinburgh College of Art/ Edinburgh University in 2006. She lives and works in Manchester, and is a member of Rogue Artist Studios and an Associate Member of The Castlefield Gallery.