Otobong Nkanga

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African Women Artists #16:
Otobong Nkanga

Otobong Nkanga is a Nigerian artist who creates works based on extensive research in diverse media. Her drawings, installations, photographs, videos and sculptures examine ideas around land and the value connected to its resources.

She often utilises body and voice in order to articulate her own reactions to existing structures and their implications. She finds inspiration for this in observing social and topographic changes in her surroundings and the influences that arise from these. As a human trace that testifies of ways of living and environmental issues, architecture and landscape act as a sounding board for narration and “the performative”.

In many of her works Nkanga reflects metonymically on the use and cultural value of natural resources, exploring how meaning and function are relative within cultures and revealing different roles and histories for the same products, particularly within the context of the artist’s autobiography and memories. Biography via

This month, we’re highlighting African women artists who are pushing boundaries in the art scene. Follow the series as we highlight one African woman artist everyday this month.

Also featured: Wangechi MutuLalla EssaydiZanele MuholiAida Muluneh,Sokari Douglas Camp CBENathalie Mba BikoroMary SibandeGazbia SirryLynette Yiadom-BoakyeJane AlexanderJulie MehretuWura-Natasha OgunjiGhada Amer, Zoulikha Bouabdellah, Zina Saro-Wiwa

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Otobong Nkanga Delta Stories, 2005-2006 

Exhibited at Casa Encendida, Madrid, Spain 2006 and INIVA, London, Great Britain, 2010 

Artist Statement:

One of the changing landscapes I am interested in is the oil rich Delta region in Nigeria, which has undergone ecological, political and social shift resulting in conflicts, violence and ecological damage. The writer and activist Ken Saro Wiwa highlighted this zone and told stories of the people that were never heard. 

'Delta Stories' is a series of 18 drawings which are narrations in fragments, putting emphasis on gestures, memories, disillusions, fears, hopes and the absurdity of human beings and its environment. One of the important starting points was the slow process of change of this landscape. The Delta is a space that leaves an evident sign of change, leaving traces, deposits and transformations. 

The drawings ‘Delta Stories: Landscapes I-II’ portray an aerial view of an imaginary landscape going through a metamorphosis. The landscape gradually overflows with water and in a later stage with a spillage of crude oil. These drawings points a two way state of mutation in the Delta zone: the geological and the man-made course of development. The stories are told with the juxtaposition of one image next to the other and the titles of each drawing gives another insight of the narrative. 

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Otobong Nkanga, Contained Measures of land, 2008

Volcanic sand, cactus, grass, wood and metal plaques, 500cm × 230 × 50 cmCourtesy : Otobong Nkanga. 

From the exhibition Tropicomania: the social life of plants

Otobong Nkanga. Contained Measures of Tangible Memories, 2009-2011

Wood, ceramic, mica, black soap, cassia fistula, indigo dye, alum, dimensions variable, unique artwork -La Galerie Contemporary Art Centre, 2011, Noisy-le-Sec, France

Otobong Nkanga Alterscape stories : Uprooting the past, 2006-2012, Photographs on aluminum 3 x (114 x 114 cm) Edition de 7 ex + 2 AP

Displacement, Geography, Colonialism:

There are always politics at play, whether buying a diamond engagement ring, or in the less conscious habits of filling your gas tank or turning on your faucet. Artists like Otobong Nkanga make and display beauty, yes. They also want us to listen, to pause and consider the stories that organic matter can tell us—both stories we may think we know well, and life and narratives seemingly so far removed from our own.

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Otobong Nkanga: Pointe Noire Fragments

 Nkanga was born in Kano, Nigeria and is a performer and Visual Artist. 'Pointe Noire Fragments' is a series of 15 drawings which narrates fragments of stories, experiences and observation during her residency in Pointe Noire, Congo. Allusions to issues surrounding exploitation of land, resources and corruption fill her work. 

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No Be Today Story O! 2010.

'Filtered Memories' are a series of drawings based on selected memories of the artist. Nkanga filters and selects moments in her childhood and teenage years that had a certain impact on her life. These memories refer to the loss of innocence, home, security and of loved ones. The titles of the drawings are of important significance that help the reader to place each event in a specific place and time. Experiences and memory are frozen in time, giving a glimpse into the artist's personal experiences, both in her homeland and Europe.

'Social Consequences I, II' are a series of drawings, which can be seen in relation to the 'Filtered Memories' series; they reveal concepts behind ideas of labour, domesticity, home, belonging and possession. These drawings have a surreal, yet diagrammatic feeling, clearly illustrating 'cause and effect' scenarios, using everyday symbolic objects.

The Book ‘No be today story O!’ is a ‘Singer-stitched’ brochure divided in 4 chapters:’Filtered Memories, 1977-1981, 1987-1996’ (2009) & ‘Social Consequences I, II’ (2009).

Each chapter contains 10 colour prints of drawings by Otobong Nkanga. This book is fitted in a silkscreen translucent white envelope.

No of Edition:
470 prints at 30 Euro each
30 prints special edition containing an original drawing 19 x 26.7 cm each.

For prices of the Special Edition books, please contact the Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam. Email: info@lumentravo.nl
This is a .docs//M geopoliticalArt Edition No. 1 
Co-edition Violet Stichting, Mondriaan Stichting and Nieuwe Vide Artspace.

Text in English: Michelle Christensen and Florian Conradi
Publisher: Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam
Graphic Design: Novak Ontwerp, Amsterdam.
Print: Lecturis, Eindhoven.
Silkscreen: Paul Wyber
ISBN: 978 90 804170 5 2 
Printed: May 2010.