Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum, Botswana, b. 1980
Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum was born in Mochudi, Botswana and works between Johannesburg, ZA and Ontario, CA. She creates works on paper, installations, animations and performances that explore the parallels between ancient cosmology and advanced theories in science
Sunstrum’s fascination with ancient ancestors and futuristic scientists have always been asking the same questions: Who are we? Why are we here? How was the universe made? What is it made of? Her work positions these questions within the constructs of power — often politicised — that are always present within the methodologies employed in seeking answers to these questions. Sunstrum bases her research on mythology, historical heroics and the speculations on the structure of the universe, likening the figures she creates as time travelling, fantastical versions of an alternate self. They live within a landscape which is both futuristic and prehistoric, questioning the very modes of time and history we use to locate ourselves within the world.
In Sunstrum’s early work she was building a mythological narrative that was loosely autobiographical, narrating an invented alter-ego named Asme who became the hero in these narratives. This mythology was driven by a concern for Sunstrum’s own complicated experience with her identity; her mother is from Botswana, where she was born, and her father is Canadian. Sunstrum herself grew up living in many different countries and cultures giving her a sense of identity which was fluid, trans-cultural and trans-geographical. As she began constructing this evolving mythology she began to think more seriously about time as a constituent of identity. Sunstrum looked into how memory – an agent of Time – persists through ancestry, a memory that can continue beyond our bodies, and beyond our own lifetimes in DNA, in sub-atomic particles, in landforms, and maybe as the mysterious ‘Dark Matter’ of the universe.
Sunstrum makes claim that the act of imagining is a political action. More to the point, as a contemporary African artist, she believes the act of imagining and occupying yet-to-be-known futures is a particularly radical political action, thinking of her work as diagrams, schemas, maps, beacons, and navigational devices that are invocations to a radical yet-to-be-known identity.
Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum has at times called various parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, Canada and the United States home. She received a Masters in Fine Arts from the Mount Royal School of Interdisciplinary Art at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD, USA and participated in the Skowhegan School for Painting and Sculpture residency both in 2007. Recent exhibitions and performances include Tiwani Contemporary, London (2016), Cinematek (the Brussels Art Film Festival) at the 2016 Art Brussels, the Visual Arts Network of South Africa (VANSA) Johannesburg (2015), Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg (2015), Michaelis Gallery at the University of Cape Town (2015), the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Art + Culture, Charlotte, NC, USA, Iwalewahaus African Art Archive, Bayreuth, Germany (2013), FRAC Pays de Loire, France (2013), the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Artists (MoCADA), New York (2011), and the 2012 Havana Biennial.