Visitors to Sharjah Art Foundation can now immerse themselves in Otobong Nkanga’s popular work Aging Ruins Dreaming Only to Recall the Hard Chisel from the Past, which has found a permanent home at the Foundation’s Al Mureijah Art Spaces. The multi-channel sound, sculpture and light installation is a lyrical intervention in the courtyard of Bait Al Aboudi, a restored Emirati home nestled amongst the other heritage houses making up the contemporary art spaces in Al Mureijah.
Created in collaboration with Emeka Ogboh, the installation animates the courtyard’s untended garden through elements engineered to bring the flora and other environmental features to life. Speakers play a range of natural sounds that harmonise with Nkanga’s very own multi-octave vocal range narrates, troubles and confounds the viewer. Here, Nkanga plays multiple personae, reciting poetry one moment before found in ebullient song - layering her own voice into a majestic gospel-style crescendo. This is mixed in with an original soundtrack of the voices of Sharjah school children singing a traditional Emirati rain song. The work interacts with and reacts to weather and light. Several circular craters framed by sand mounds have been filled with sea water, which evaporate over time. A set of light boxes, mimicking the tonal shades of the sunset and covered with Nkanaga’s own poetry, line the walls of the courtyard and activate as the sun sets. As a whole, the installation makes a case for sound as an embodied experience that can reflect the intimate relationship between landscape and the human psyche.
Land and ecology have long been central themes in Nkanga’s practice, which spans drawing, tapestry, photography, installation, video and performance. She also explores ideas around natural resources and their relationship to the body.
Nkanga has recently been awarded the Lise Wilhelmsen Prize and received a Special Mention at the 58th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale. Her large-scale solo exhibition From Where I Stand was on view at the Tate St Ives in 2019. Other recent exhibitions include, Acts at the Crossroads at Zeitz MOCAA (2020) and a solo exhibition at Gropius Bau in Berlin.
The work was commissioned by Dr Omar Kholeif for Sharjah Biennial 14, who picked the site of Bait Al Aboudi specifically for Nkanga. He had previously worked with Nkanga on her first US museum survey exhibition, To Dig A Hole That Collapses Again at the MCA Chicago.
A Sharjah Art Foundation commission and the winner of the Sharjah Biennial 14 Prize, Aging Ruins Dreaming Only to Recall the Hard Chisel from the Past is the second permanent site-specific installation at the Foundation. Random International’s Rain Room (2018), located in a purpose-built space in Al Majarrah, was the first.