Otobong Nkanga’s work foregrounds ecological themes of relationality and becoming through a distilled poetics of entanglement. Her multidisciplinary practice examines the complex social, political, and material relationships between bodies, territories, minerals and the earth. Unsettling the divisions between minimal and conceptual or sensual and surreal approaches, the artist’s research-based practice constellates humans and landscapes, organic and non-organic matter, Global North and Global South economies. Through drawing, installation, performance, photography, textiles and sculpture, Nkanga creates pathways translating the natural world – its plants, herbs, minerals and living organisms – into networked, aggregated situations evoking memory, labour, home, care, ownership, emotion, touch and smell.
In addition to producing distinct and rigorously researched art objects, Nkanga has consistently broken new ground through her ambitious, long-term projects. Landversation, which toured four cities from 2014-20, puts the artist and visiting publics in dialogue with multiple local communities who have deep connections to the land; while The Carved to Flow Foundation, established in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, on the occasion of a series of performances held at documenta 14 in 2017, is a platform dedicated to researching material cultures and fostering shared experimentation and exchange locally. These projects, and Nkanga’s practice more broadly, evidence a transhistorical and cross-cultural diversity of influences, pointing to the planetary scale of her artistic investigations. Reframing people and objects as compressed multitudes and as entities that come into being in relation to other entities, Nkanga deftly weaves insights from geology, botany, poetry and non-Western knowledge systems. Her works’ allusions to the reparative potentials of connectivity urgently gesture towards the possibility of more livable futures.
Otobong Nkanga (born 1974, Kano, Nigeria) lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium. She studied at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ife-Ife, Nigeria; the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and did her masters in the Performing Arts at DasArts, Advanced Research in Theatre and Dance studies in Amsterdam. Nkanga has been an artist-in-residence at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam in 2002-04, DAAD Berlin programme in 2013-14 and at the Martin Gropius-Bau in 2019.
Her most recent solo exhibitions include: Sint-Janshospitaal, Bruges, Belgium (2022); Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria (2021); Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Turin, Italy (2021-2022); Villa Arson, Nice, France (2021); Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Høvikodden, Norway (2020-2021); Gropius Bau, Berlin, Germany (2020); MIMA, Middlesbrough, UK (2020); Tate St Ives, UK (2019); Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town, South Africa (2019); Ar/ge kunst Galleria Museo, Bolzano, Italy (2018); MCA Chicago, US (2018); Kunsthal Aarhus, Denmark (2017); Nottingham Contemporary, UK (2016); Beirut Art Center, Lebanon (2016); Tate Modern, London, UK (2015); Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany (2015); Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, Schiedam, The Netherlands (2015); Portikus, Frankfurt, Germany (2015), Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp, Belgium (2015); Kadist Art Foundation, Paris, France (2015).
Nkanga was given the Special Mention Award at the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, Italy, 2019 and won the 2017 Belgium Art Prize. Other notable awards include the Peter-Weiss-Preis, Sharjah Biennial Prize, the Lise Wilhelmsen Art Award, the Flemish Cultural Award for Visual Arts - Ultima and the Yanghyun Prize.
Recent and upcoming projects
'Otobong Nkanga: Gently Basking in Debris', 3 February – 23 April 2023, Frist Art Museum, Nashville, TN, USA
'Dear Earth: Art and Hope in a Time of Crisis', 21 Jun – 3 Sep 2023, Hayward Gallery, London, UK
'Otobong Nkanga', 13 Jul – 5 Nov 2023, IVAM, València, Spain
'Busan Biennial 2022 – We, on the Rising Wave', 3 September – 6 November 2022, Busan, South Korea
'Underneath the Shade We Lay Grounded. Otobong Nkanga', 25 June – 25 September 2022, Sint-Janshospitaal, Bruges, Belgium