Otobong Nkanga

The Weight of Scars, 2015 | In Pursuit of Bling, 2014

The Weight of Scars

The idea for the textile work The Weight of Scars (see pages 54-55) came to Otobong Nkanga when she visited the Tsumeb copper mine, one of the oldest in Namibia. It was a shocking experience.  As she looked at the holes punched into the ground, she reflected on how many people had been digging here, and how hot it must have been in the shaft. She also realised how technological development, from manual digging to blowing up with dynamite, had accelerated the destruction and wounding of the landscape: ‘Imagine the scars, the mental scars, the emotional scars, the scars of the landscape.’

Nkanga lays bare the connections between human bodies, the landscape, and raw materials. The four-part tapestry shows two human figures holding up a network of spheres containing photographs of abandoned Namibian mines, over a blue territorial map. They are headless, their upper bodies transformed into clusters of dismembered arms, a recurring motif in her work. Nkanga compels us to bear witness to these topographies of land and labour, to remember who suffers when materials, be it coltan or cacao, are extracted for the everyday luxuries we take for granted. When she looks at a landscape, she sees its scars, but also its beauty and the immense potential for resistance. ‘If we start realising how we are connected, and that we are also part of the elements in the soil, we will maybe think differently about the way we work within our landscape.’ 

In Persuit of Bling

Why is it that we are unable to reduce the damage to the landscape? It’s because we’re addicted to

raw materials, says Otobong Nkanga. We want to make ourselves beautiful and for this we extract raw materials from the earth, for example mica, the mineral that provides the shine and glimmer in makeup. ‘Bling’ also points to the shimmer of opulence, the affirmation of success, of having access to laboriously excavated and scarce substances: the relationship between scarcity and desire which drives the flows of supply and demand that govern globalisation. Nkanga confronts us with an ethical dilemma: how do we weigh the value of our lifestyle against the human suffering and ecological damage it causes?


Otobong Nkanga (1974) was born in Kano, Nigeria, and now lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium. Her drawings, installations, photographs, sculptures and performances examine the social and topographical relationship with our everyday environment. Her work uncovers the memories and historical impact of human interventions in nature, and probes the systems and methods associated with the mining, processing and transportation of raw materials. In doing so, she pays great attention to the connection between ores, material culture and the redistribution of power and knowledge: the relationships between, and the exploitation of, the landscape, people 

and work. 


Otobong Nkanga 

The Weight of Scars, 2015 

Woven textile and photography 

Yarns, viscose bast, mohair, polyester, bio cotton, linen, acrylic and inkjet print on 10 laser cut forex plates

 4 tapestries: 253 x 153 cm each, 253 x 612 cm in total 

Bruises and Lustre, MuHKA, 2015 

Photograph: Christine Clinckx - MuHKA 

Courtesy of the artist / Lumen Travo Gallery 

Private collection of Frans and Mieke Bollen

Otobong Nkanga 

In Pursuit of Bling, 2014 

HD video with sound, 11’59” 

Courtesy of the artist / Lumen Travo Gallery