Emerging African Artists: Otobong Nkanga

Tunde FolawiyoNigeria has been at the heart of a new and vibrant art scene in the past few decades. One of the most recent and most promising artists to arise from this expressive and experimental cultural movement is that of Otobong Nkanga. Working quietly away in the past few years, her work has turned many heads and has even caught the attention of the Tate Gallery which has showcased a number of her works.

Nkanga’s art crosses media boundaries, beautifully embracing the modern renaissance man approach to artistic expression. This has culminated in works depicted in sculpture, drawings, photography, performance, and even in the use of contemporary installations. This eclectic approach has kept each work alive and spontaneous, without her projects re-treading the same ground as can often be the case with artists operating through a single medium.

Embracing the environment around her, Otobong Nkanga uses her art to explore identity within the context of surroundings. Unlike some of her contemporaries, each project displays an understanding and exploration of architecture as well as the environment, resulting in works which can be displayed in a variety of settings. The different pieces of her work are often used and rearranged into new stunning installations or displays, once again returning to the theme of surroundings and their context.

Born in Kano, Nigeria, in 1974, Otobong has spent much of her recent time in Belgium. There, she has continued to explore surroundings, linking her pieces to not just the context of land, but the ecological resources attached to them. Furthermore, her recent work has ruminated on the value which cultures apply to the natural resources and land around them, illuminating the different historical approaches of peoples from all around the world. Despite being based now in Europe, her work continues to garner admirers from Africa, whether casual art fans, or more serious enthusiasts such as Tunde Folawiyo, who shares Otobong’s appreciation of environment, and who uses this appreciation to positively impact Africa’s current business climate, as discussed in this recent interview with Tunde Folawiyo.

Many of these installations have involved Nkanga using her own body and voice in an amalgamation of performance and art, incorporating a real personal touch and auteur narrative to the proceedings. Unlike some artists, however, this involvement is never allowed to overshadow the depth and meaning contained within each artistic flourish.

Otobong Nkanga continues her work from Antwerp in Belgium, with a long line of impressive displays in some the world’s most reputable and influential museum and exhibition spaces, proving once again that she is one of Nigeria’s finest contemporary artists.

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