Otobong Nkanga at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Artist: Otobong Nkanga

Exhibition title: To Dig A Hole That Collapses Again

Organized by: Omar Kholeif

Venue: Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA), Chicago, US

Date: March 9 – April 18, 2018

Photography: all images copyright and courtesy of the artist and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents the first North American museum survey of Nigerian-born, Belgium-based artist Otobong Nkanga, whose work explores the relationship between Africa and the Western world, with a focus on the intense mining of natural resources since the rise of global capitalism. Drawing from a range of media including drawing, photography, tapestry, and installation that she activates with performances, Nkanga examines how raw minerals from Nigeria and other African countries are transported through various covert economies and transformed into desirable consumer objects. This exhibition introduces Nkanga to American audiences with the most comprehensive presentation of her works to date, in addition to the debut of a performance for the exhibition’s opening. On view from March 31 to September 9, 2018, the exhibition is organized by MCA Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives Omar Kholeif. A fully illustrated catalogue focusing on Nkanga’s drawings with essays by acclaimed author Teju Cole and Kholeif, as well as new poems by Nkanga, accompanies the exhibition

At the heart of Nkanga’s work is her fascination with what she calls ‘shine.’ For her, shine has a dual meaning, referring both to the glimmering surface qualities of natural resources like rare minerals, as well as the desire to be seduced by exotic consumer objects. One of the major works on view, In Pursuit of Bling is a multimedia installation of the many states of mica, exploring its transformation from a raw mineral form to the shimmering powder used in makeup, a product of seduction. The display—which includes geological samples, tapestries, video, and photographs—captures the contradictory nature of bling as both a vehicle for impressing others and simultaneously for exploiting the world’s natural resources.

In tapestries and works on paper, Nkanga references West African resources and cultural artifacts from her memories growing up in Nigeria. For example, Filtered Memories – Home, 1977, Yaba, Lago depicts an image of Nkanga and her sister standing under a palm tree in front of a house on stilts; in Filtered Memories – Reduced to Ashes, 1978, Yaba, Lagos, she portrays the same idyllic house a year later, but now it is on fire. With this series and Social Consequences, which builds on Filtered Memories, Nkanga’s drawings look like the pages of a children’s book; only upon looking closer does one notice the violence within each frame, alluding to her interest in the seduction of appearances.

Nkanga’s personal experience is also central to Solid Maneuvers, a sculpture that is activated with a performance at the exhibition’s opening. The work is inspired by a site she visited in Namibia known as the “Green Hill” for its rich sources of copper ores, such as malachite and azurite. Western explorers quickly came for its copper leading to the exploitation of the area, and it became a nexus of railways and mines. The town’s name, Tsumeb, literally translates as “to dig a hole that collapses again,” a phrase that suggests a body or landscape consistently attempting to reconstruct or protect a site of mystical beauty only for it to be destroyed. The performances involve pouring pink mineral salts, sand, tar, and mica-based cosmetic powder over the sculpture, as if trying to piece the extracted elements back together.

Through her work, Nkanga acts as a cultural anthropologist—tracing the violent means by which contested minerals and objects are exhumed from their natural environments, and prompting audiences to reconsider their relationship to the world around them. In Delta Stories, she shows aerial views of the oil-rich Nigerian delta in a series of eighteen drawings. Images of burning oil-drainage pipes are paired with images of blood-stained, disembodied hands and a face shedding tears.

The MCA presents a site-specific work for the exhibition, Anamnesis (2016-ongoing), in which the artist constructs the shape of a meandering stream of water in the wall. Inside this crevice, she places the most commonly imported spices to Chicago, such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, pepper, and vanilla and lets the smell permeate the gallery.

Otobong Nkanga is the latest artist to be featured in the MCA’s acclaimed Ascendant Artist Series, which features exhibitions that present the most relevant upcoming artists working today.

 ABOUT OTOBONG NKANGA

Otobong Nkanga was born in Kano, Nigeria, in 1974 and currently lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium. Nkanga studied at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, the École Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts in Paris, and at DasArts in Amsterdam, where she also completed a residency at the Rijksakademie van beeldende unsten. The artist is the recipient of the 2017 Belgian Art Prize and the 2015 Yanghyun Prize, and has participated in biennials and fairs around the world, including the Sharjah, Berlin, São Paulo, Shanghai, Lyon, and Göteborg Biennials, in addition to Art Basel, Miami, and Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany. She has shown and performed at a number of prestigious international institutions including the Tate Modern in London, Kadist Foundation in Paris, MHKA in Antwerp, the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, and the Stedelijk in Amsterdam. Group shows include Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Smithsonian in Washington DC, WIELS in Brussels, Moderna Museet in Stockolm, and Kunsthal Charlottenbourg in Copenhagen.

Installation view, Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again, MCA Chicago March 31 – September 2, 2018 Work shown: Carved To Flow, 2017–18 Courtesy of the artist Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

Installation view, Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again, MCA Chicago March 31 – September 2, 2018 Work shown: Carved To Flow, 2017–18 Courtesy of the artist Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Installation view, Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again, MCA Chicago March 31 – September 2, 2018 Work shown: Carved To Flow, 2017–18 Courtesy of the artist Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Installation view, Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again, MCA Chicago March 31 – September 2, 2018 Work shown: Carved To Flow, 2017–18 Courtesy of the artist Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Installation view, Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again, MCA Chicago March 31 – September 2, 2018 Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Installation view, Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again, MCA Chicago March 31 – September 2, 2018 Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Installation view, Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again, MCA Chicago March 31 – September 2, 2018 Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Installation view, Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again, MCA Chicago March 31 – September 2, 2018 Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Installation view, Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again, MCA Chicago March 31 – September 2, 2018 Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Installation view, Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again, MCA Chicago March 31 – September 2, 2018 Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Installation view, Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again, MCA Chicago March 31 – September 2, 2018 Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Installation view, Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again, MCA Chicago March 31 – September 2, 2018 Work shown: Anamnesis (detail), 2018 Coffee, Tea, Peat, Tobacco, Cacao, Spices. Courtesy of the artist Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Installation view, Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again, MCA Chicago March 31 – September 2, 2018 Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Otobong Nkanga, In Pursuit of Bling: The Transformation, 2014. Courtesy of Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam and Galerie In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Otobong Nkanga, Infinite Yield, 2015. © Museum of Modern Art, Antwerp. Courtesy of Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam and Galerie In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Otobong Nkanga, The Weight of Scars, 2015. © Museum of Modern Art, Antwerp. Courtesy of Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam and Galerie In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Otobong Nkanga, The Weight of Scars (detail), 2015. © Museum of Modern Art, Antwerp. Courtesy of Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam and Galerie In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Otobong Nkanga AlterScape Stories: Uprooting the Past (Triptych), 2006 Courtesy of the artist Photo: courtesy of Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam and Galerie In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Otobong Nkanga Social Consequences IV: Avaritia, 2014 Defares Collection Photo: courtesy of Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam and Galerie In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Otobong Nkanga Social Consequences I—Crisis, 2009 Coll. Hetty Huisman/Grietha Jurriëns Photo: courtesy of Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam and Galerie In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Otobong Nkanga Social Consequences I—Heritage, 2009 Collection Michel François Photo: courtesy of Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam and Galerie In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Otobong Nkanga Social Consequences II—Constructivism, 2009 Courtesy Paul van Esch & Partners Collection Amsterdam Photo: courtesy of Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam and Galerie In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Otobong Nkanga The Flow Will Not Stop!, 2011 THE EKARD COLLECTION Photo: courtesy of Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam and Galerie In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Otobong Nkanga In Pursuit of Bling—Indulgence, 2014–16 Galerie In Situ-fabienne leclerc, Paris Photo: courtesy of Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam and Galerie In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc, Paris.

Otobong Nkanga Filtered Memories – Reduced to Ashes, 1978, Yaba, Lagos, 2009 Courtesy Paulien Burmann Photo: courtesy of Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam and Galerie In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Otobong Nkanga Filtered Memories Working Men, 1990, FPH, Victoria Island, Lagos, 2009 Collection Pieter and Marieke Sanders, Haarlem Photo: courtesy of Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam and Galerie In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Otobong Nkanga Filtered Memories Home, 1977, Yaba, Lagos, 2009 Collection Harm and Floor Haak – Van der Lely Photo: courtesy of Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam and Galerie In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Otobong Nkanga, Solid Maneuvers, 2015. Galerie In Situ—Fabienne Leclerc, Paris. Photo: © M HKA, Antwerp, courtesy of Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam, and Galerie In Situ—Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Otobong Nkanga Study for “Crisis” (More land), 2008 Photo: courtesy of Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam and Galerie In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Otobong Nkanga In Pursuit of Bling, 2014 Joint purchase of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and the Musem Arnhem, with the generous support of the Vereniging Rembrandt, thanks to its Titus Fonds, and he Mondriaan Fund Photo: Eva Broekema.

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