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Otobong Nkanga
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois
Recommendation by Robin Dluzen


Otobong Nkanga, "In Pursuit of Bling," 2014, ink-jet prints, lightbox, metal modulated structure, minerals, objects, texts, videos with sound, and woven textile pieces; overall dimensions variable. Photo: Eva Broekema

Continuing through September 2, 2018

In Nigerian-Belgian artist Otobong Nkanga’s solo exhibition, “To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again,” our geological earth is the subject — not its untouched beauty, but the realities of what we’ve done to it. Throughout the show, natural materials lend their auras, both in and of themselves, and in transformation. In the tapestry “Steel to Rust — Slow Growth,” a variety of textiles are woven to create an astonishingly realistic approximation of a craggy, patinaed surface. The largest installation, “Anamnesis,” cuts across the gallery wall with the silhouette of the Chicago River, filled with the kinds of organic commodities that are shipped upon it: coffee, tobacco and spices, all filling the room with their aromas.

But where this exhibition shines is in Nkanga’s ability to make the inert come alive. “Reflections of a Raw Crown,” a video piece installed horizontally within an installation of objects and images on low platforms collectively called “In Pursuit of Bling,” shows the artist wearing a green, pointed hat of rough, copper ore, in obvious if lyrical dialogue with towering, Western-style churches topped with decorative copper roofs and peaks. The ore and the metal are physically separated but visually adjacent, serving as a prompt to contemplate that which occurs between a substance’s site of origin and its final form. Acts of refining, hammering, forging and processing transform it in the wake of the original displacement. Nkanga precisely and poetically highlights the dark truths inherent in our appreciation of the earth’s natural beauty: the desire that drives us to extract also serves to cumulatively destroy the landscape in order to possess its products and wealth.


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