Otobong Nkanga

Otobong Nkanga, Preliminary Recipe for a Support System (2016–17), digital drawing, collage, and acrylic on paper, 42 × 28 cm

There is no singular event. Everything is connected with everything.

Noting down any event is just catching a glimpse, a fragment of time.

What day is it today? Does it matter? The land has been there much longer anyway.

What are the traces left on the land over the past days, years, centuries, and millennia?

Otobong Nkanga seeks to pervade the complex layers of the traces left by nature, left by humans. She examines ideas of land, home, and displacement. She researches how these notions are connected with memory. She digs into the fabrics of time. She delves into broad historic contexts and present realities. She engages with a wide spectrum of disciplines. She submerges herself in archives, examines raw material, and consults experts. She uses all kinds of media: drawing, installation, video, performance. All to understand how land and its natural resources are entwined with greed, pain, hope, knowledge. How is this reflected in material objects as much as in intangible elements, those wrapped in complicated notions of value and remembrance?

What year is it today? Does it matter? The land has been there much longer anyway.

How to visualize the beginning and the end of the narration of the land, of who we are?

For Nkanga, born in Kano, Nigeria, in 1974, objects and landscapes are inhabited by memory and emotion. Plants, stones, dust, glimmer, archival material are recurring elements in her complex installations. They are evidence of what our environments are actually made of. In her performances she narrates their impact on the past, the present, and a possible future. In many works she also lets a multitude of others narrate their stories about the land: Was it home? Was it a strange place? Did it make them who they are?

What century is it today? Does it matter? The land has been there much longer anyway.

The colonial plundering of minerals like mica, copper, and malachite have forever deeply scarred resource-full environments. The violence of the past has monumental echoes in the present: from the green copper domes displayed in the urban fabric of European capitals to the use of these materials in many industrial products. Nkanga creates counter-memorials. She zooms in on particular elements of our surroundings to effectively portray the struggles of (re)defining the environmental conditions in which we live.

What millennium is it today? Does it matter? The land has been there much longer anyway.

—Yvette Mutumba

Posted in Public Exhibition
Excerpted from the documenta 14: Daybook

What is a Circular Economy and How Can We Make It Possible?

with Erik Van Buuren and Otobong Nkanga

The hunt and greed for resources has shaped economic and societal models over the ages. A growing world population is affecting the way resources are being depleted, causing major societal disruption on…


Carved to flow

by Otobong Nkanga

Carved to Flow (2017)
Laboratory installation and natural soap O8
Coproduced by Yanghyun Foundation, Seoul, and Ministerie van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap, Departement Cultuur, Jeugd en Media, Brussels