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b. 1974, Nigeria

Otobong Nkanga Biography

Working across performance, sculpture, drawing, painting, textiles, photography and installation, Otobong Nkanga is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice considers the relationship between humankind and land and its resources. Born in Kano, Nigeria in 1974, Nkanga studied at Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria before continuing her studies at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 2008 Nkanga completed her master's in the Performing Arts at DasArts, Amsterdam. The artist is based in Antwerp.

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In 2015, Nkanga embarked on a field trip in Namibia where she traced the railway route from Swakopmund to Tsumeb. Almost entirely defunct, the line's construction was completed in 1906 by the Otavi Mining and Railway Company (OMEG). Its path leads to what was once a minerally rich area in Tsumeb, commonly called the 'Green Hill'. Extensive mining has, however, transformed the hill into a cavernous hole—a monument that speaks to human desire and the exploitation of natural resources. The sound recordings, video, photographs, performance documentation, interviews and images from the Namibian archives that Nkanga collected during her journey along the railway route acted as a catalyst for an array of projects and artworks, including a series of intensive workshops held at Frankfurt's Städelschule, where she was guest professor in 2015. Out of her research came In Pursuit of Bling at the 8th Berlin Biennale, followed by exhibitions at Kadist Art Foundation in Paris (Comot Your Eyes Make I Borrow You Mine, 27 September–20 December 2015), Portikus in Frankfurt (Crumbling Through Powdery Air, 16 July–6 September 2015), and M HKA in Antwerp (Bruises and Lustre, 14 October 2015–17 January 2016).

In Pursuit of Bling (2014) is centred on the natural mineral mica, whose name is Latin for 'crumb' but is thought to have derived from the Latin micare, which means 'to glitter'. Nkanga's artwork explores mica's different applications once it has been processed, reflecting on the human desire to turn resources into commodities. In Pursuit of Bling was later included in Nkanga's first survey exhibition in the United States in 2018 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again, 31 March–2 September 2018). In an Ocula Conversation with Stephanie Bailey held in June 2018, Nkanga explains that the work 'was not only about looking at that material sense of light, but also thinking about it in relation to spirituality and connection to a place, and how we can understand the notion of migration and displacement by thinking about a hole that displaces because of the removal of what it once contained. As the hole is made, the body is displaced.'

The processes of corrosion, oxidation and transformation of natural materials were explored by Nkanga in her commission for the 2017 Belgian Art Prize, which comprised four works including In a Place Yet Unknown (2017)—a tapestry displaying a poem by Nkanga that slowly absorbed a liquid from a container placed at the bottom, using the rising stain as a way in which to think about the transformation processes that occur in society.

Nkanga's research-driven approach to contemporary art in some cases necessitates specialists or practitioners. Such is the case in Carved to Flow (2017–2018), an ongoing project that was conceived for documenta 14. The work is composed of three 'phases': 'the Laboratory', 'the Warehouse & Distribution', and 'the Germination'. The first phase comprised of a site-specific installation in Athens that functioned as a soap-making factory, which saw Nkanga work alongside soap maker Evi Lachana to create soap, inviting participants to contribute to the process and add to the installation. Through the use of natural ingredients such as olive and coconut oil, Nkanga unveiled the potential for soap as a medium 'capable of expressing complex geographical, historical and affective entanglements.' For the project's third phase, the artist has created The Carved to Flow Foundation, based in Akwa Ibom in Nigeria, which seeks to sustain the initiatives from the project and will be dedicated to 'fostering shared experimentation and exchange locally.'

Tessa Moldan | Ocula | 2018

Otobong Nkanga Featured Artworks

Emptied Remains/ Waiting to Migrate by Otobong Nkanga contemporary artwork
Otobong NkangaEmptied Remains/ Waiting to Migrate, 2004–20154 Lambda prints mounted on aluminium, individually framed with museum glass
90 x 293 cm
Mendes Wood DM Contact Gallery
Emptied Remains/ Color of Nature is definitely Green by Otobong Nkanga contemporary artwork
Otobong NkangaEmptied Remains/ Color of Nature is definitely Green, 2004–20155 Lambda prints mounted on aluminium, individually framed with museum glass
90 x 350 cm
Mendes Wood DM Contact Gallery

Otobong Nkanga Represented By

Mendes Wood DM contemporary art gallery in São Paulo, Brazil Mendes Wood DM São Paulo, Brussels, New York

Otobong Nkanga In Ocula Magazine

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Gallery Weekend Berlin: Shows to See Ocula Feature Gallery Weekend Berlin: Shows to See By Tessa Moldan, Berlin

First launched in 2012, Gallery Weekend Berlin returns this year between 11 and 13 September 2020.

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Otobong Nkanga Ocula Conversation Otobong Nkanga By Stephanie Bailey

Otobong Nkanga has developed a practice that reads the world on material terms and maps out how the body fits into a shared, earthly narrative. Her 2012 project Contained Measures of a Kolanut followed the artist's research into the library of CIRAD, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development in Paris' Bois De...

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documenta 14: the view from Athens Ocula Feature documenta 14: the view from Athens By Maria Nicolacopoulou, Athens

documenta 14's mammoth effort to include 40 something venues and over 160 artists in its exhibition in Athens (8 April–16 July 2017) is a testimony of the institution's struggle to infiltrate a city with a weighted ancient and modern past, a turbulent present, and an uncertain future. There is a push-pull relationship between inside and outside in...

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'Polyphonic Worlds': Contour Biennale 8 Ocula Feature 'Polyphonic Worlds': Contour Biennale 8 By Federica Bueti, Mechelen

Polyphonic Worlds: Justice as Medium is the eighth edition of the Contour Biennale. It opened on 11 March 2017 (running until 21 May) with an ambitious exhibition and public programme curated by Natasha Ginwala and an all-female team of advisors including thinker Denise Ferreira da Silva, artist Judy Radul and writer Rachel O'Reilly...

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Otobong Nkanga In Related Press

Dangerous Art: A Stark But Inspiring New Exhibit Related Press Dangerous Art: A Stark But Inspiring New Exhibit 6 April 2019, npr

A rickety-looking wooden boat is piled high with overstuffed bags covered in colorfully patterned African fabrics. Hanging overboard: a collection of plastic teapot-shaped pots and gasoline cans. Instead of floating on water, this ark is adrift on an ocean of green glass bottles. The boat is actually a piece of art called Road to Exile, by the...

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Artes Mundi 8: Filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul wins £40,000 prize Related Press Artes Mundi 8: Filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul wins £40,000 prize 24 January 2019, BBC News

Indie Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul has won the £40,000 Artes Mundi contemporary art prize. The judges said his film Invisibility was 'a powerful weapon in these turbulent times'. The 48-year-old gave a UK premiere to his dream-like work, projected over two screens and showing two figures rising from their beds in separate rooms....

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