Born in Nigeria Otobong Nkanga now lives and works in Antwerp in Belgium. Having exhibited her works across the world, she has become well-know for her exploration of the politics of land, body and time through multi-media art forms. In 2015 she was awarded the Yanghyun Prize for artistic achievement followed by the Belgian Art Prize in 2017. This year she received the Ultimas-Flemish Prize for culture and, with Emeka Ogboh, the Sharjah Biennial 14 Prize.
Through the medium of sculpture, tapestry, photography, painting, graphics and film, her latest exhibition From Where I Stand explores the controversy around the ownership of land, the earth’s resources and its affect on the body. In the midst of all of the challenges around climate change, the tension in the artwork between people and planet feels very real and current. Otobong’s artworks explore these themes in a thought provoking and relatable way, making the exhibition accessible to those of us who may not be usual visitors to art galleries.
From Where I Stand showcases a collection of new and existing works by Otobong, some created specifically for Tate St Ives. As you enter the exhibition space, your eye is drawn to two large installations, one on the floor and one hanging from the ceiling, and then to a huge mural that occupies the entire back wall. Colourful tapestries are hung from the walls alongside large canvases, and smaller framed works. Borrowed Light (below middle & right) is a site-specific wall painting influenced by Otobong’s time in St Ives where she undertook field studies, meeting with Cornish bards and exploring local archives. Using a palette of colours, Otobong observed the Cornish coastline to create this large-scale piece showing a series of images, disconnected landscapes and fragmented bodies held within a map of lines, shapes and contours.
Her sculpture installation, Constellation to Appease (below left) draws inspiration from Porthmeor Beach in St Ives and shows 3 steel shapes hung from the ceiling. These reflect the polygonal crystalline structure of minerals and salt and are connected by a piece of rubber-coated industrial rope showing the significance of rope in Cornish industries and shipping. Plants and items collected from the beach are entwined in the piece to represent the geological and social history of Cornwall.
As well as her work in Cornwall, Otobong has undertaken research into sites across the world such as the former Tsumeb mine in Nambia. Through this she has developed a series of works around the concept of ‘emptied-out landscapes‘ – places that were once full of copper ore and rare mineral bounties that now lay abandoned, empty.
“Nkanga’s works reflect on the processes and consequences of the extraction of natural resources from ethical, human and material perspectives. She explores the transformation of minerals into desirable commodities – including the use of mica in make-up to give glimmer and shine – as a commentary on the value placed on material culture, often at the expense of the environment.”
This idea of ‘emptied landscapes‘ is evident in many of the artworks on display at Tate St Ives. Her installation sculpture Solid Maneuvers 2015 (below middle) reflects the mined landscape of Cornwall. Three platforms represent geological layers with voids and absences holding a collection of raw materials such as sand with processed materials including make-up and salt.
In the collection of works below, maps show punctures of missing places, places that once drained of their natural life and resource have become barren and colourless. The work asks the viewer to take a step back and take notice of the damage that is done by this large scale mining.
Otobongs canvases, tapestries and photography guide you through the themes of the piece, but there is space within the exhibition for visitors to explore their own responses to the work. What do you see in the artwork below?
Otobong’s work From Where I Stand 2015 (below) asks this very question. “From where you stand, what is your own position? How do you look at something? What is the story that comes out of what you’ve seen?” This large carpet work features in the centre of the gallery enabling you to walk around and view it from a number of different positions. The graphic shape and geometric patterns derive from flakes of mica, a mineral used in make-up. Steel structures are dotted across the carpet housing samples of sheet materials and accompanying visuals show fragments of landscape and coastlines.
Next door to the Otobong Nkanga exhibition you will find another new addition to Tate St Ives, Mikhail Karikis’ film Children of Unquiet 2013-14. Exploring the relationship between land, industry and community, this film was created with a group of 45 children living in a volcanically-active region in Tuscany, Italy. The area, known as Devil’s Valley, was the inspiration behind Dante’s Inferno. In the other gallery spaces you can also view works by renown local artists including Barbara Hepworth and Patrick Heron as you explore the history of modern art in St Ives.
There is plenty to see at Tate St Ives and if you haven’t yet visited this will be a great opportunity to experience new and well-known works. If you have visited and you enjoyed the From Where I Stand exhibition, you can join Otobong for a performance lecture at Tate St Ives on
Tuesday 5th November to learn more.
Tate St Ives
Tate St Ives is 1 of 4 galleries across the UK, alongside Tate Britain, Tate Modern and Tate Liverpool with a mission to increase the public’s enjoyment and understanding of British art from the 16th century to the present day and of international modern and contemporary art. Find out more by following the links below.