Artist Otobong Nkanga – ‘Imagining the Scars of a Landscape’ | Tate

My name is Otobong Nkanga I am a visual artist, also a performer I’m interested that the work can talk about the body can talk about the landscape can talk about multiple ways of understanding how we can be here together I remember when, as a kid we lived in Yaba, in Lagos we normally used to just walk to school the sun would be coming up the nice thing was that we’d see the roads glistering with mica on the ground This is in ’80s with Diana Ross and the moment of glitter and glimmer I imagined myself being one of these Boney M ladies which is weird and have the mica on the skin it’s something that is actually used in make-up and I used to play with it and rub it on my skin on the dark skin it really glitters it really comes out and with the sun you would play with it and flicker your hands from left to right and see it shine it’s not enough, it’s not enough I need to hear more, I need to hear more I think that the performative aspect of it has always been there I think performance allows for something much more physical that the drawings, or let’s say the sculptures, does not allow It’s a different way of engaging with a public or with when I talk about public, my public could be the sea could be the mountain, could be a people could be a tree and so the performance becomes crucial because you can really sense the emotion live I wanted to erase the head because the head had too much information we would look at the nose, or your lips are too big or you’re this and that it would bring in that notion of maybe race it was just too much, because I was like trying to make a drawing and while trying to make that drawing, all these questions were coming up and I was just like, “Okay. I’ll just cut off the head.” that was simple, head out now, what I was interested in was gesture the action of doing, of making, of movement really focusing on what we do and how we do things how we work for me, that connection with the body rooted, almost like a tree within a place was also to try to think that the rootedness does not necessarily connect to geographically being in a place it’s not about just your nationality, but it’s about the land if we do not take care of that then it will not be able to give us the things that we need the Weight of Scars was done in 2015 so, visiting the Tsumeb Mine which is one of the oldest mines in Namibia and seeing this hole and this dent in this space was quite emotional and quite hard to look at it I wasn’t just looking at the holes but thinking, how many people have been digging this going in to the shafts and the heat of that shaft because when I entered into the tunnels and the heat in that tunnel, you can’t imagine you’re imagining the kinds of scars the mental scars, emotional scars the scars of a landscape and these were the thoughts that I had when I was making the textile work these were mines that were dug by local people before the Germans came in, the Namibians, the Ovambo people would actually carve out and take out the minerals that they needed and so, when I visited Tsumeb you realise that it’s a space that has been blown up with dynamite I understood the difference between how technology changes the way we extract it made me realize the kinds of tools that we’re using and how we’ve accelerated that process of destruction, of scarification, of wounding then we can imagine what has happened in places that have been colonized people coming into a place and changing completely that structure of things and that repercussion is still happening today and, I think one thing I would like to talk about was the notion of dependency and addiction and when you see that we’re going through the crisis we’re going through today and the kinds of scars we have in our landscape how come we’re not able to be able to make very big decisions about reducing certain things that we do? there is a kind of psychological state in which we are all and I am also part of it we are drug addicts in a way and the drug is the resources if we start thinking in such a way that we’re that connected and that we are also part of elements that are in the soil we will maybe think of the way we work within our landscape differently music or working with instruments have always been part of the family but, one of the things that was very important was that we used to sing in church so you learned how to sing with a group of people you learned how to have different voices I feel that with music, you’re able to go beyond where the visuals don’t talk Tsumeb is one of the places that had the most minerals in the world over 260 minerals in one cluster of a place most of the names would be from the Europeans that came into the lands and then, in quotes, “discovered” the minerals when I was standing in front of this mine I made a song for the mine and performed for the mine but I kind of I call out the names of the minerals talking to the mine and asking it what was its name but of course, I don’t get an answer but at least I’m also appeasing it that I’m sorry that your names have been changed it’s interesting to understand the transformation of language of a place when meanwhile, it had another name it had another language connected to it the work Delta Stories which is a series of 18 drawings is inspired from the writings or the work of Ken Saro Wiwa and he was talking about him fighting with the government and also with Shell and about the pollution of the landscape this has been happening since the 1970’s where the oil spills were in the landscape the voice of Ken Saro Wiwa was silenced because he was put in jail and also killed even though he was trying to stand for something that would benefit his people it was a way of talking about, how can you have multiple voices multiple ways of narration so, it’s not just one way I think my work is to understand how are we connected how are our histories connected for me, it’s important to go beyond only talking about a social or political but to enter into a place that the emotional talks more and more I think all the works that have been made should be a way of bouncing and opening up ways of thinking for different people so, I hope the work does that that it can connect the spaces in between of places that are going through crisis and to be able to understand how to be able to live within this, or find solutions within this I hope, but you never know


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