Born in 1974, Kano, Nigeria, Otobong Nkanga lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium.
Nkanga makes use of different mediums like drawing, performance, photography video or installation to put forward observations and sensations of the everyday influences in our social developments, environment and culture. Her works refers to autobiographical narratives and social ecological realities of spaces of her homeland and places she encounters.
Her drawings, installations, photographs, videos and sculptures variously examine ideas around land and the value connected to its resources. In many of her works Nkanga reflects metonymically on the use and cultural value of natural resources, exploring how meaning and function are relative within cultures and revealing different roles and histories for the same products. She edits her own experience and that of her compatriots into purposeful and lucid icons. Mining memory and personal urban biography Nkanga reveals the dialectical relationships between everyday material landscapes and the unseen social, political, and economic structures that shape – and are shaped by – them.
A more documentary approach to the consequent interrogation of the implications of human acts and their effects on varied environments and contexts, one can find in Nkanga’s different photographic series Dolphin Estate. The series documents the first prefabricated residential neighbourhood in Lagos, built in the 1990s. In a statement Nkanga recounts that these photographs, taken in 2008, “show the results and conditions of a long lost dream. Dolphin Estate has gradually fallen into a state of disrepair leaving the residents to take care for their daily needs such as water, electricity and deal with flooding problems”. The neo-American suburbian names for the housing complexes seem to suggest a gated community as a utopia in daily life, but in reality the buildings are often not adequately equipped with the facilities they promise and the necessity emerges to build extensions and additional structures to support human survival as a multitude of giant water vessels outside the apartment windows prove. As the photographs show, the makeshift altération between the domestic environment and the vividly coloured barrels infuses an aspect of beauty into a rather dull, concrete environment.
Therefore, on a meta-level Dolphin Estates seems to tackle the moral questions connected to the aesthetics of non-architecture and the originality that animates parallel urbanity, as a source of inspiration for artists and architects. Again, as in other works, it is a question that revolves around the paradoxes of exploitation.