Contained Measures of Tangible Memories :

February 26, 2012
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The multidisciplinary practice of Otobong Nkanga is structured around chains of associations, which reveal a complex and interdependent layering of narratives, fuelled by an acute observation of our world, often with autobiographical tone.

For the project “Contained Measures of Tangible Memories: Indigo Regina” at L’Appartement22, Otobong Nkanga continues his research with a project focused on Indigo, as one of five natural substances—with mica, alum, mimosa and black soap—found during his travels in Morocco. For this, the artist considers the uses the practices concerning tinctures and colouring. The artist chose to dye a white cotton fabric, which had previously belonged to her mother, Regina: a practitioner of traditional batik dying from Lagos. This process of replication puts into question the alchemy and provenance of the cotton, brought from Lagos to Anvers, Fez and Rabat respectively. It presents itself as an archetype of the globalisation that has become constituent with our being, and at that, becomes approximate with what Edouard Glissant described as the imprints left upon us by the places we’ve been and the narratives they unfold. Once dyed, the artist questions: “does the fabric have the same density as in my memories? Maybe after being treated the same way ? Does it take on the same smell, the same visceral feel as what I remember it having when I was younger ?” The project “Contained Measures of Tangible Memories: Indigo Regina” discusses the inherent complexity of memorising tangible aspects of locations, colours and gestures.The textile, titled “Tales of a Cloth” is only revealed through the oral transmission of know-how. It is imprinted within the encounters and displacements occurring between various worlds. Furthermore, the irregular texture of the cotton fibre absorbs the dye irregularly. These imperfections in the fabric highlight the trajectories associated with the artists memory of the material processes, in a very delicate and sophisticated process of conceptual and material folding.

The artist seeks to link these ancestral processes with materials that traverse generations, countries and continents in the era of emergence we a rein. She evokes these actions, yet transfers them into objects belonging to a different time entirely. The video then brings past and present into a mutual context, as a moment that connects us to our present experiences. The simple traversal between past and present does not in itself empower one into progress: rather, it is the tangible objects that we have accessible, which provide us with the possibility to project ourselves into the future. When there is transmission, there is less mental stagnation and thus a better chance to exploit the knowledge at hand. This is particularly significant in countries in which oral transmission is the only source of communication.

Contrarily, when there is no access to the memory, or memory is altered and the instruments of knowledge are no longer present, the present moment becomes intangible. Relying on a dialectic between nature and culture, the works of Otobong Nkanga — herself as well mobile and evolving — explore the dissonances that appear between cultures, in the same way that similar products will have various uses, meanings and stories depending on the culture in which they operate. Each one of her materials corresponds to a memory inscribed in her childhood in Nigeria, which she has dreamed of seeing, touching and smelling, since her first visit here in 2009. Otobong Nkanga draws from the personal stories that reside in us, acting as driving forces for our relationship to the world, here relayed through a video installation rendered for Appartement22.

The installation consists of: a dyed cotton fabric, a video projection,Indigo powder and pebbles on metallic cups. The project was co-produced between the artist and Appartement22 in Rabat. The artist would like to thank Abderrahmane Essaidi, Maud Houssais, Haje and Nourdine Khalid.



I have touched this cloth a thousand times, the soft and rough mingles in every thread inserted every weave.

I could only remember this texture by touching it here and now and knowing that the colour I choose will bring out the shine and grain.

I found this cloth last Year in Regina, my mother’s old trunk, a hand woven cotton forgotten for more than 18 Years.

It reminded me of her, her scarf made of the same cotton. But this cloth lacked that particular smell of her scarf the odour of Indigo.

If things were different this cloth would have been long gone.

It would have been transformed in dyes of different colours, cut and sown and then sold.

I would not be sitting here recalling this particular experience.

Regina always wore gloves, each time she dyed the meters of cotton or brocade.

She dipped the cloth in the hot mixture and I would stand there and watched the cloth’s gradual change in colour.

Her gloves would get darker and darker from blue to black layered by every immersions.

Just touching this cotton opens this story buried in the folds of my brain.

I can almost feel the caress of her hands on the cloth and smell the odour of the dye finding a home in every weave.

I can nearly caress her hands with a burning desire to wear her gloves contained with Tangible Memories.



How could something so simple wake up old memories sunken so deep, recalling times that have passed so fast.

But here I am back in the present, recapturing the edited sequences from a long forgotten roll-film.

All of a sudden it makes sense, everything seems to falls into place.

In another space and time all elements come together.

The smell, heat and sound trigger a certain sensation once experienced.

And then, I found You, « INDIGO »



Sorry, this entry is only available in French.


J’ai touché ce tissu des milliers de fois, le doux et rêche s’entrelacent dans chaque fils maille.

Je pouvais seulement me souvenir de cette texture en la touchant ici et maintenant tout en sachant que la couleur que je choisirai révèlera la texture brillante et granuleuse.

L’année passée dans la cantine de Regina, ma mère, j’ai découvert un tissu en coton fait main, oublié depuis plus de 18 années.Cela me rappelait à son souvenir, son écharpe, faite de la même étoffe.

Mais à ce tissu il manquait l’odeur particulière de son écharpe, l’odeur de l’Indigo.

Si les choses avaient été différentes, ce tissu aurait appartenu au passé. Il aurait été transformé en différentes teintes, il aurait été coupé, cousu et puis  vendu.Je ne serait pas assise ici en me souvenant de ces expériences si particulières.

Regina portait toujours des gants, chaque fois qu’elle teintait des mètres et des mètres d’étoffe, elle trempait le tissu dans une mixture bouillante et je restai là en attendant à côté pour observer le changement graduel de couleur.

A chaque immersion, ses gants devenaient de plus en plus sombres, passant du bleu au noir.

Juste toucher ce coton ouvre l’Histoire enfouie dans les de interstices mon cerveau.

Je peux presque sentir la caresse de ses mains sur le tissu et sentir l’odeur de la teinture à la recherche d’une maison dans chaque maille.

J’arrive presque à caresser ses mains avec un désir brûlant de porter ses gants qui contiennent les Mémoires Tangibles.


Comment est-ce que quelque chose d’aussi simple peut faire ressurgir des mémoires si profondément enfouies qui rappelle le temps passé si rapidement.

Mais, moi je me trouve de retour au présent, rassemblant les séquences éditées d’une pellicule de film oubliée.

Tout à coup cela fait sens, tout semble reprendre sa place.

Dans autre espace-temps tous les éléments s’emboîtent.

L’odeur, la chaleur et le son créent une décharge d’une sensation certaine d’expérience vécue.

Et alors, je T’ai trouvé « INDIGO »

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