Skip to main content Start of main content

Exchange and Some Change: The Imaginative Economies of Otobong Nkanga

Social Consequences IV: The Takeover, 2013, round stickers and acrylic on paper, two parts, 29 × 42cm each. All images courtesy the artist; Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam; and In Situ Fabienne Leclerc Gallery, Paris
Monika Szewczyk looks at Otobong Nkanga’s ritual engagement with objects, arguing that her desire to put things back into circulation undoes the logic of accumulation of both art and capital. The last time I spoke with Otobong Nkanga, she told me that she does not like to write. She prefers the spoken word — the traditions of the griot, the storyteller, the advisor, the poet, the orator, but also the open-ended evolution of conversation and all forms of ephemeral verbalised exchange. In the space of one such recent dialogue (with one of the most prolific interviewers in our midst, Hans Ulrich Obrist), she elaborated: ‘I like talking but I don’t like writing. I think my brain goes a bit too fast and my hands are too slow.’ I like how this points to a desire to consider hand activity and brain activity together. Sitting down, slowing down to write something of substance about this protean artist and the energies she is able to unleash, I am grimly aware that the reader might here conclude that anything committed to print runs the risk of transmuting the artist’s work into something anathema to it. Writing and reading are linear forms, whereas the forms that Nkanga chooses for her work are anything but! Yet the challenge that this situation poses — with the potential for the printed word to arrest what Nkanga calls the ‘politics of flux’ — need not be paralysing. Rather, in thinking alongside her work, I propose to give weight to spoken exchange by considering it as a key part of an overall economy of abundance.