Exhibition views
Otobong Nkanga, Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo, Brazil
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Mendes Wood DM São Paulo
Rua da Consolação, 3368

Mendes Wood DM is pleased to present Otobong Nkanga’s first solo exhibition at our São Paulo gallery. Bringing together installations, tapestries and drawings, the show explores converging points between matter, memory, belonging and cultural differences.

Nkanga’s research draws on a non-linear history of materials, as well as on the different meanings that these materials can acquire in different places. In a sort of archeology of the future, the artist introduces the history of a place by presenting the history of another place, almost like a kaleidoscope of references that dilutes cultural differences. The exercise is continuous and its similarity with the act of weaving is not fortuitous, taking us to one of Nkanga’s most recurrent practices: her tapestries. Her work challenges time, place and memory: the pillars for the construction of a solid natural identity. In the present exhibition, this is materialized by taking different routes.

The work installed at the exhibition entrance, titled Abacus (2020), brings together several natural materials, which are organized from a mechanical viewpoint. Combining stone, glass, marble, salt, and water, Nkanga presents a chemical recipe that corrodes the copper and brass structure that unites the materials, making use of bacteria cultivated from the interaction between them. The use of invisible and independent live organisms to achieve changes in the physical aspects of a mechanical structure is one of the routes taken by the artist to investigate the control and separation of things. The sculpture’s mathematical aspect forces us to count matter as if it were a number, dismissing the individuality of matter and its impact under variable conditions. The installation opens the exhibition by making us question the whole linear concept of matter.  The same saddle brings together drawings that fragment animal and vegetable bodies. Such drawings mechanize the natural order of things while at the same time questioning the human perception of what unites and divides us.

Moving inside the room, we see two recent well-known works by Nkanga: her tapestries. This body of work, which is presented – both in terms of its method and the object per se – as a world map emerged from the need to conquer a place and explore the unknown. As it is weaved, an image under construction is revealed, like an expanding universe, a document of the place inhabited by the body. This dialogue between space and body and the stories that emerge from it are fundamental to Nkanga’s work. These stories are particularly evident in the installation Contained Measures of Tangible Memories (2009-2011), in which Nkanga presents memory as material. In the artist’s words: "Wooden modules on rollers, that can be moved around within the exhibition space, are used to display a set of five natural products: mica, Black soap (Savon noir), Cassia fistula, Indigo dye (Le bleu magique) and Alum. Found in Morocco, each of these products has the particularity of being used in a different way in Nigeria, my home country. A part of the installation is a video piece about the use of these elements in relation to my memory. Mobile and evolutionary, open-ended and embodying a nature/culture dialectic, the work explores movement from one country to another: the same products see their history, meaning and uses vary according to the culture they are integrated into. As part of a set of customs? An a fortiori collective? They echo here my own life and memory. Fueled by observation of the everyday and bearing the stamp of autobiography, this work investigates the different roles and usages of five natural materials. These demonstrate the linkages between the individual and the context he or she is a part of; even if this context varies from one culture to another and is, by definition, in a state of permanent evolution. These five elements were chosen because they trigger forgotten childhood memories from when I was growing up in Lagos, Nigeria. The chosen elements have their function and use in Moroccan society but they also had, and have, a different meaning, function and use in my childhood and society in Nigeria."

Otobong Nkanga’s explore things as they are. The artist builds her images from displacement, from an existence away from home, from remembrance, from physics and chemistry, and from nature. The images tell different versions of the origins of the world, of the future of the world, of a place we have never been to, of people that perhaps have never existed. It is the abstraction of our certainties, and a free path to untold truths.

Otobong Nkanga (Kano, Nigeria, 1974) lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium.
Her most recent solo exhibitions include Uncertain Where the Wind Blows, Henie Onstad, Høvikodden (2020); Acts at the Crossroads, Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA), Cape Town (2019); From Where I Stand, Tate St Ives, Saint Ives, (2019); A Lapse, a Stain, a Fall, ar/ge kunst, Bolzano (2018); To Dig a Hole that Collapses Again, MCA Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2018); Wetin You Go Do?, The Tanks at Tate Modern, Blavatnik Building, London (2017); The Encounter That Took a Part of Me, Kunsthal Aarhus, Aarhus (2017); The Encounter

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