Frist Art Museum / 919 Broadway February 3, 2023 - April 23, 2023

Otobong Nkanga

The Frist Art Museum presents Otobong Nkanga: Gently Basking in Debris, an exhibition of tapestries, drawings, video, sculpture, and more that make metaphorical connections between the landscape and human body. Organized by the Frist Art Museum, the exhibition will be on view in the Frist’s Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery from February 3 through April 23, 2023, and is part of the Tennessee Triennial for Contemporary Art, a program of Tri-Star Arts.

Born and raised in Nigeria, Otobong Nkanga has lived and studied in several cities across Europe and now resides in Antwerp, Belgium. Ideas in her work relate to crossing between geographical places and cultural identities and reflect her itinerant life. “Nkanga sees history, memory, economics, and geography flowing like a river through the human body,” writes Frist Art Museum chief curator Mark Scala. “Straddling nature and society, the body can be a metaphor for global fracture or connectedness. It mirrors the earth: Both contain the same elements and minerals. Both bear the scars of exploitation. Both need patience and love to be made whole.”

Environmental degradation and healing are major themes in Nkanga’s work. Fragmented figures—wounded and headless bodies—signify damaged environments and serve as actors in an epic story across her body of work. The exhibition’s title, Gently Basking in Debris, implies human passivity to a mounting pile of wreckage in nature and society. Yet Nkanga suggests that art can stimulate awareness and restorative action.

As part of the statewide Tennessee Triennial for Contemporary Art, the exhibition responds to the theme of “Re-Pair” envisioned by consulting curator María Magdalena Campos-Pons of Vanderbilt University’s Engine for Art, Democracy & Justice. Nkanga’s works align with Campos-Pons’s call for art “to re-pair, patch and rebuild our fragile spirits, bodies, cities, political institutions and economic relationships.” For Nkanga, such repair is emotional and spiritual. “To care,” she says, “is a form of resistance. We have to enter into the space of resistance—of singing together and caring for each other’s souls.”

Image: Otobong Nkanga. Tied to the Other Side, 2021. Woven textile (yarns: viscose, multifilament, merino wool,elirex, superwash, monofilament and acrylic); 137 3/4 x 236 1/4 in. Courtesy of the artist