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.