Installation Art by Otobong Nkanga (on display in Oxford, UK, until November 2016)

otobongnkanga-installation-at-portikusThe angular and multi-layered, architectural installation “Tsumeb Fragments” (2015) by Nigerian contemporary artist Otobong Nkanga is on display at Modern Art Oxford as part of the exhibition “KALEIDOSCOPE: It’s Me to the World” (20 August – 17 November 2016).

Like many works from Nkanga’s portfolio, Tsumeb Fragments addresses the themes of landscape, memory and the legacies of colonialism throughout continental Africa, utilising a diverse array of mixed-media and materials: from metal frames, paper and natural minerals, through to photographic stills and film footage.

THE HISTORICAL AND GEOGRAPHICAL CONTEXT TO “TSUMEB FRAGMENTS”

Detail from Tsumeb Fragments (2015) by Otobong Nkanga
Detail from “Tsumeb Fragments” (2015) by Otobong Nkanga featuring photographic images of Tsumeb, Namibia.

In spring 2015, Otobong Nkanga travelled to Tsumeb in Namibia to an area called The Green Hill – a site known for its precious minerals, natural crystals and copper reserves. However, throughout the late-19th and 20th centuries, when Namibia was colonised by the Germans, the entire area was exploited for these natural resources and over-mined until the landscape was almost totally depleted, left in ruins and transformed into an open-pit. At the time when Nkanga took images of Tsumeb in 2015 the site was no longer a green hill. However, some slight traces of green remained in the tiny, scattered fragments of malachite and azurite minerals – the only remains of the past to  evidence the area’s former environmental beauty and wealth. The artist’s inkjet-printed images on Galala limestone in this multi-level installation, therefore, symbolise an act of remembrance, and also a ‘re-imag(in)ing’ of times and places in the past – the palimpsest of memory.

Reflecting on her travels in Namibia, and her artistic process during the design and assemblage of Tsumeb Fragments, Nkanga said:

“Memory is not only an autobiographical state, but also an important notion in relation to objects that leave traces.”

                   Otobong Nkanga (2016), artist (b. Kano, Nigeria),
                   interviewed by Kadist Art Foundation (Paris, 2015)       

Still from Otobong Nkanga's "Remains of the Green Hill", 2015, video, HD, 16:9, stereo sound. Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
Still from Otobong Nkanga’s “Remains of the Green Hill”, 2015, video, HD, 16:9, stereo sound. Photo credit: Aurélien Mole

This recent installation of Tsumeb Fragments within the modern and contemporary art space at Oxford provides a captivating and complex exhibit featuring six modular metallic structures, cement, copper, twelve inkjet printed images on plexiglas and Galala limestone, a lightbox, some Tsumeb minerals and a video entitled “Remains of the Green Hill” (c. 16 minutes duration) – which can be watched while listening to the audio narrative via headphones.

CENTRALISING TSUMEB FRAGMENTS AND WOMEN ARTISTS AT MODERN ART OXFORD

Photographic portrait of the artist Otobong Nkanga, taken at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam (Netherlands). Source: AFRICANAH.org - an Arena for Contemporary African, African-American and Caribbean Art
Photographic portrait of the artist Otobong Nkanga, taken at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam (Netherlands). Source: AFRICANAH.org – an Arena for Contemporary African, African-American and Caribbean Art.

Beyond the poignancy of the installation itself, what is also noticeable about this particular artwork is its position within the gallery space – centralised on the upper tier of Modern Art Oxford in its Middle Gallery; and placed alongside the work of two other famous women artists, specifically: “On a Clear Day” by Canadian abstractionist Agnes Martin  (1912-2004); and “Cloud Pieces, 1963” (2016) by Yoko Ono.

That these artworks created by three women might be positioned at the heart of a contemporary exhibition in the UK (or anywhere in Europe, more broadly) is still a rarity – despite the successful arts activism and agitations of feminist collectives such as the Guerrilla Girls , as well as more mainstream interventions through women-only exhibitions such as “Elles@pompidou (Women artists in the collections of the National Modern Art Museum),” curated by Camille Morineau (Pompidou Centre, Paris, 2009-2011), and the related book, “ARTISTES FEMMES: de 1905 à nos jours” (2010).*

THE MATERIAL AND THE MONDIAL

Like other works from Otobong Nkanga’s oeuvre, Tsumeb Fragments enables viewers/audiences to engage with the materialities that surround us in the natural environment, as they become entangled and intertwined with the political, technological and socio-economic issues and challenges of everyday life.

Discussing her work on display at Modern Art Oxford, Otobong Nkanga recently said:

“Everything we have, own or possess derives from the earth, even though it might have been transformed by artificial means. We are a species that is constantly adapting to circumstances and the places in which we live, but at the same time, we cannot disassociate ourselves from nature. We get floods, thunderstorms, heat waves, and these forces remind us that we live in nature.”
             Otobong Nkanga, interviewed in Oxford, UK (2016)

The exhibition KALEIDOSCOPE: It’s Me to the World is on display at Modern Art Oxford through to 17th November 2016.

ADDITIONAL NOTES:

It’s Me to the World is the fourth display in the Gallery’s KALEIDOSCOPE series of exhibitions. The thematic assemblage brings together artists from several generations who “adapt forms from nature and use the body to explore ideas of perception, intimacy and endurance.”

In addition to the aforementioned three artists (Otobong Nkanga, Agnes Martin and Yoko Ono), the other artists featured in this Kaleidoscope exhibition are: Marina Abramović, Helen Chadwick, Dorothy Cross, Richard Long, Mohammed Qasim Ashfaq, and Hannah Rickards.

In total, KALEIDOSCOPE: It’s Me to the World presents  17 artworks by nine contemporary artists, displayed in three rooms spanning the upper tier of the gallery space at Modern Art Oxford. To download the exhibition notes (in PDF format, click here).

SOURCES OF FURTHER INFORMATION:


Otobong Nkanga – Bruises and Lustre from ARTtube on Vimeo.

In Pursuit of Bling (2014) - an installation by Otobong Nkanga presented at the Berlin Biennial. Image source: Portikus.
In Pursuit of Bling (2014) – an installation by Otobong Nkanga presented at the Berlin Biennial. Image source: Portikus.

* To view the Pompidou’s web pages featuring archived images from the ‘Elles@pompidou’ exhibition and video/documentary film footage about famous women artists of the 20th and early 21st centuries, please see http://fresques.ina.fr/elles-centrepompidou/

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Published by

Carol Dixon

Carol Dixon is a teacher, education consultant and academic researcher interested in African and Caribbean diaspora histories and heritage, cultural geography, museology and contemporary visual art. Her recently completed PhD dissertation is titled "The 'othering' of Africa and its diasporas in Western museum practices" (University of Sheffield, UK).

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