Aging Ruins Dreaming Only to Recall the Hard Chisel from the Past, 2019

tobong Nkanga and Emeka Ogboh
Aging Ruins Dreaming Only to Recall the Hard Chisel from the Past, 2019
Multi-channel sound installation, sculpture and light installation, poetry, dimensions variable
Installation view: Sharjah Biennial 14: ‘Leaving the Echo Chamber’
Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation
Courtesy of the artists
Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation


Land and ecology have long been central themes in Otobong Nkanga’s practice, which spans drawing, tapestry, photography, installation, video and performance. The scarcity of natural resources and their relationship to how they are used in relation to the human body is also an experience of continued investigation.

In Aging Ruins Dreaming Only to Recall the Hard Chisel from the Past (2019), commissioned for Sharjah Biennial 14 (2019) and permanently installed in the courtyard of the Foundation’s heritage house Bait Al Aboudi, Nkanga examines the land, the human (and animal) body, the organic and the inorganic, the animate and the inanimate, and the visible and the invisible, manifesting an emotional ecology of prosperity and depression, hopeful beginnings and eventual demise, and the possibility of rebirth.

Created with the contribution of Emeka Ogboh, the installation activates the courtyard’s untended garden through elements engineered to bring the flora and other environmental features to life. A muti-channel sound installation presents narrates a story imbued with natural sounds that harmonise with Nkanga’s own multi-octave vocal range, creating narratives and troubling and confounding the viewer. Nkanga plays multiple personae, reciting poetry one moment and breaking into ebullient song the next, layering her own voice into a majestic gospel-style crescendo. Her voice blends with an original soundtrack of Sharjah schoolchildren 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 and natural dye evaporates and is replinished over time. A set of light boxes, mimicking the tonal shades of the sunset and covered with Nkanga’s own poetry, line the walls of the courtyard and comes to life 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.

Winner of the Sharjah Biennial 14 Prize, Aging Ruins Dreaming Only to Recall the Hard Chisel Past is part of the Sharjah Art Foundation Collection and is the second permanent site-specific installation at the Foundation.