Nigerian artist Otobong Nkanga has been announced winner of the Belgian Art Prize 2017, the most important and historic award for contemporary art in Belgium, at the official awards ceremony in BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts on April 19, 2017. Nkanga was born in Kano, Nigeria in 1974. She studied at OAU, Nigeria and later to Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts in Paris, and the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam, and completed Advanced Studies in the Performing Arts at the DasArts, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Her work explores the social and topographical changes of her environment, observes their inherent complexities and understands how resources such as soil and earth, and their potential values, are subject to regional and cultural analysis. Her work has been featured in many institutions including the Tate Modern the KW Institute (Berlin), the Stedelijk Museum and the biennale of Sharjah. She will appear at the 20th Biennale of Sydney.
The biennial art prize focuses on stimulating leading mid-career artists and contributing to their further career development through increased international visibility. In that respect the prize is similar to other European prizes such as the Turner Prize in the United Kingdom, the Prix Marcel Duchamp in France and the Prix de Rome in the Netherlands.
The winner was chosen from the four finalists (Edith Dekyndt, Simona Denicolai and Ivo Provoost, Otobong Nkanga, and Maarten Vanden Eynde) by a distinguished international jury consisting of Beatrix Ruf (Director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam), Hans Ulrich Obrist (Artistic Director of the Serpentine Galleries in London) and Dieter Roelstraete (Co-curator of Documenta 14), art collector Mimi Dusselier (who has been involved in visual arts for the past 30 years) and Estelle Francès Lasserre (Director of the Fondation d’Entreprise Francès).
The international jury however, decided to recognise Otobong Nkanga for her extraordinary and complex artistic practice. Nkanga is an artist who records the social and topographical changes of her environment, who observes their inherent complexities and understands how resources such as soil and earth, and their potential values, are subject to regional and cultural analysis. Her work invites the spectator to enter into a dialogue about the intangibility of identity, memory and perception and to observe how these parameters change when presented within a specific composition and recitation through language. The jury describes Otobong Nkanga’s contribution to the international art scene through her installations as extremely valuable.
The jury applauded the commitment of the four nominated artists and praised the quality of their diverse artistic practices. The finalists translated both local and international cultural histories into strong works with powerful immediacy that evoke the social and political commitment of each of the nominees. The poetic and enigmatic character of each proposition reflects the complexities and challenges of today’s world.