Otobong Nkanga



Guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Programme 2014

Otobong  Nkanga Wim van Dongen

Her interest is in the value and use of natural resources. In her work, Otobong Nkanga examines the extent to which the importance of materials is comparable in different cultures. As a guest of the DAAD’s Artists-in-Berlin programme in 2014, she broadened her artistic horizons in the German capital. “Amazing” is how she describes the time she spent in Berlin. “I was able to focus entirely on my art and even work for three days without a break if I felt like it.” The many contacts with the Berlin art scene, the discussions and encounters were particularly inspiring to the artist, who was born in Kano, Nigeria, in 1974 and now lives in Antwerp. “The general attitude was so positive,” Otobong Nkanga explains. “Everything’s possible – that’s something I’ve often heard in Berlin.”

Everything’s possible – that’s something I’ve often heard in Berlin.
Otobong Nkanga

Her performances blend drawing, sculpture, music, language and movement. “What I’m interested in are the stories behind things,” she says. “They go much deeper than what we see.” The artist makes playful use of objects and materials, removing them from traditional contexts and showing them in new, intercultural relationships – like the women in her work Diaspore (2014) who balance potted flowers on their heads. Otobong Nkanga has lived in Europe since the mid-1990s. After studying for two years in Nigeria, she attended the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. Her internationally acclaimed work can be seen at London’s Tate Modern as well as at the Stedelijk Museum and the Biennales in Benin and Shanghai. As guest professor at the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main, she explored the ambivalent connotations of brilliance and radiance in her exhibition Crumbling Through Powdery Air, which ran from July to September 2015. In spring 2015, she also created an installation for the 25th anniversary of Essen’s Folkwang Museum in Germany. Otobong Nkanga photographed members of the museum’s staff with an object of their choice and compressed the images to create a portrait of the institution. Her research began with an ancient marble hand. “Nobody knew where it came from,” Nkanga explains. The fragment inspired her to make large-format drawings revolving around the belief in magic. “Art has the power to grab you emotionally and stir your imagination.”