NKANGA, Otobong; Dolphin Estate I
Otobong NKANGA is an artist with a fast-growing reputation who works in photography, painting, drawing, installation and performance. She recently presented a commissioned work at Sharjah Biennale (2013), and in 2012 her work was included in ‘Across the board: Politics of Representation’, Tate Modern, London; ‘Object Atlas’, Weltkulturen Museum, Frankfurt am Main; ‘Manifest Aanwezig / Manifestly Present’, Genk; and ‘La Triennale: Tropicomania: The Social Life Of Plants’, Betonsalon Center of Art And Research, Paris.
In the group of images titled ‘Dolphin Estate’, she documents the first pre-fabricated housing development in Lagos, one of the fastest developing cities in the world. In these images the inadequacies of utopian urban planning are exposed on the housing complexes facades. After the original fast-paced development, the buildings have fallen into disrepair. Nkanga’s photographs document the way that residents are left to take care of basic needs such as water and electricity. Reflecting on her early photography Nkanga says:
I was very interested in documenting spaces, especially ruined or abandoned spaces and places undergoing change. . . Each time I went back to Nigeria, I had the urge to photograph the changing landscape in order to arrest the moment—to keep a certain memory before it changes. . . What actually fascinated me was the rate at which the Nigerian landscape was evolving. Buildings that were built a few years back suddenly seem to decay so fast and next to the building, a new structure seemed to sprout out of nowhere. This fast acceleration of construction also exposes, with such contrast, the decays and ruins of the society.(1)
Nkanga’s painting and drawing practice explores hidden labour and the environmental impact of resource-driven developments. Limits of Mapping 2009 appears to be a map of an unidentified territory, which is pierced by a series of red rods. This act of piercing draws the viewers’ attention to the two-dimensionality of the map, reminding us that maps are only able to present a specific part of a multifaceted landscape. Reflecting on a group of works related to Limits of Mapping, the curator Philippe Pirotte writes:
…some of Nkanga’s drawings resemble topographical maps…indexing territorial occupation, although they also indirectly remind one of an animal skin, as a trophy to be taken. The level of abstraction brings to mind the legacy of colonial mapping; at the same time the distanced view invokes the positivism of science and technology, which not only removes our fear of nature, by promising limitless knowledge and power, but also destroys our sense of awe and wonder towards it.(2)
Home for Kipinga 2012 and Agripeta 2013 unpack issues surrounding a positivist and commercial approach to nature and the land. They have a schematic approach which is suffused with a slightly surreal edge. The reference to the scientific study and observation of nature is reinforced by the colour bands in the corner of the works and the use of abstracted maps. The works attest to the strength and beauty of nature, as these vegetative forms transgress the boundaries of the maps. In these works Nkanga questions quantitative approaches to the observation and the measurement of nature.(3)
Limits of Mapping 2009, Home for Kipinga 2012, and Agripeta 2013 will be presented in the forthcoming exhibition ‘Harvest’, GOMA, 2014.
1. Otobong Nkanga in conversation with Bisi Silva, CCA, Lagos Newsletter, issue 10, September - December 2010, p.4.
2. Philippe Pirotte, ‘Social Consequences’ in ArtSouthAfrica, vol.9, issue 1, pp.67-8.
3. Ibid, p.67.