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Fascinated by what she calls “glimmer” and “shine," Nigerian-born, Belgian-based artist Otobong Nkanga discovers the journey raw minerals make from Africa to the Western world, where they’re turned into objects of desire. Reflecting on both their capacity to both impress and exploit, Nkanga uses minerals as a metaphor for the relationship between continents. From March 31 to September 9, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago will showcase the most comprehensive exhibition of her works to date.

So what can you expect? First of all, artworks in a variety of mediums: poetry, drawings, photography, tapestry and installations, and even a performance on the opening day. In her own artistic way, Otobong Nkanga acts as a cultural anthropologist, reflecting on post-colonialism and global capitalism by tracing the violent way in which precious minerals are taken from their natural environment in Africa and turned into shiny objects of desire like makeup or jewellery in Europe and North America.

Many of her works are analytical, beautiful and technical representations of minerals in various states. Like Pursuit of Bling, which is a multimedia installation exploring the various states of mica, from its raw mineral form to a shimmering powder used in makeup. The installation, including geological samples, tapestries, video and photographs, showcases the contradiction of ‘bling’, being used for both impressing and exploiting others. Interesting to note is one of her more personal works, Filtered Memories. In it, she references the resources of her country and the cultural artefacts of her childhood. The work presents an idyllic image of her and her sister standing under a palm tree in front of their house, followed by a work showing that same house on fire.

In a time where racial inequality is still shockingly present, the shiny work by Otobong Nkanga doubles as a mirror, compelling us to reflect on our interactions with the world around. Can you handle some self-criticism? Then you can’t miss this exhibition if you’re around Chicago.
Otobong Nkanga: to Dig a Hole that Collapses Again will inaugurate on March 31 and will be on view until September 9 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA), 220 E Chicago Ave, Chicago.

Marjolijn Oostermeijer 

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