Nkata: An Installation by Nnenna Okore at Krannert Art Museum, Aug. 28 through Dec. 23, 2015 | Photo by Julia Nucci Kelly

On August 24, Chicago-based artist Nnenna Okore came to KAM to install her work Nkata, an installation inspired by the materiality of everyday life and the metaphoric power of language. Nkata—the Igbo word for “basket” or “conversations”—focuses on the transformative properties of burlap, breaking it down to a skeletal form to produce gestural sculptures that embody the entanglement of fibers, conversations, and memories.

Combining investigational elements of light, sound, and organic materials Okore transformed the space at Krannert Art Museum to produce a work that straddles the line between tangible and intangible.


The dimensionality of the work is both breathtaking and haunting. Suspended in the air, anchored to the floor, and oozing from the walls her sculptures maintain a rhythmic quality that is metamorphic creating a heightened sensibility to viewer interaction. Conscientious of how visitors would move around the space, Okore’s installation of the work centered on her awareness of the experiences she was constructing. She built these moments of sight throughout the exhibition using holes in the burlap to frame your vision of the work and see new again how each sculpture converses with another. This activation of space was gradual process, as what arrived to the museum as rolled up masses of burlap slowly unraveled and expanded into conversations and voices that filled the room.

Okore’s work has always been engaged with the rhythmic properties of everyday life and she exposes that interest through the repetitive processes of weaving in Nkata. In weaving together individual strands of burlap producing these massive structures, Okore creates a work that exposes its labor in uniting individual voices, narratives, and histories to produce a greater conversation. It is the nature of the organic medium itself that reveals this tedious process and gives new form to a mundane activity of daily life.

Okore deepens this experience with the inclusion of aural elements. Using the familiar sounds of her childhood—sweeping, washing, chopping, and talking—she reimagines them in this immersive environment and disengages them from their context to a create a heightened sense of these intangible concepts that materialize in her work. In addition, the experimental incorporation of light and its interaction with glass materials adds yet another layer to these intangibilities explored. Working as vessels for these voices her sculptures give form to memory, sight, sounds, actions, and words that have occurred at various temporal moments past, present, and future.

The effect is overwhelmingly engaging. Entering the space you are confronted by a looming presence, consumed by the sounds of a conceptualized everyday, awakened by the smells of burlap, and intrigued by the dancing light and shadows that float around the room. This kinetic quality of Nnenna Okore’s work embodied by her use of organic materials transforms the mundane, amplifying its possibilities. With conversations operating at all levels of the installation, Nkata becomes a vessel for individualized interaction with the intangible.