The prize, which is among the world’s largest single prizes for an artist, was first announced in March, and is fully funded for its first 16 cycles by Norwegian cruise ship magnate Arne Wilhelmsen and his family in memory of his late wife Lise Wilhelmsen. During her lifetime, Lise acquired art for her husband’s company, Royal Caribbean Cruises.
Nkanga, who was born in Nigeria in 1974 and currently lives in Antwerp, is currently the subject of solo exhibition at Tate St. Ives, up until next January, and another survey of her work will open at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art in Cape Town, South Africa, in November. She received a special mention at the 58th Venice Biennale earlier this year and won the 2019 Sharjah Biennial Prize in March.
Though the award was originally billed as being for a painter and sculpture, Nkanga is a multi-disciplinary artist, working across tapestry, installation, photography, video, and other mediums. Her practice looks at the ways humans shape—and ultimately destroy—the earth.
“Otobong Nkanga is an artist of unshakeable integrity and vitality,” Tone Hansen, the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter Museum’s director, said in a statement. “The impact we have upon our environment and one another constitutes the essence of her work.”
The jury included Hansen, María Inés Rodríguez, Michelle Kuo, Elvira Dyangani Ose, and Caroline Ugelstad. In a statement, the jury wrote, “Otobong Nkanga was selected because her work and practice so poignantly and effectively address the contradictions inherent in humanity’s most celebrated characteristics: imagination, creativity and the ability to respond to and engage with the world around us. In the 21st century, humankind has gradually come to realize the immeasurable force and impact of its existence, not only on cultural, social and economic systems, but also on our planet. Nkanga brings a new perspective to these subjects while creating poetic paintings and sculptures of an extraordinary quality.”