In celebration of the reopening of Tate Britain, Tate Etc. invited a selection of artists from around the world to choose a favoured work from a fellow artist currently on display. Here, African artist Otobong Nkanga discusses Anya Gallaccio’s preserve ‘beauty’ 1991–2003

  • Anya Gallaccio, 'preserve 'beauty'' 1991-2003

    Anya Gallaccio
    preserve 'beauty' 1991-2003
    2000 red gerberas, glass, metal, rubber
    displayed: 2600 x 5350 x 25 mm
    Presented by an anonymous donor 2004 Anya Gallaccio, courtesy Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York

    View the main page for this artwork

I can imagine the gradual process of deterioration and the smell of the flowers that might inhabit the room, even though I have never physically experienced this piece. The struggle to contain the inevitable decay is intensified with the use of huge panes of glass that press against the red gerberas (also known, by the way, as African daisies). I was particularly drawn to the work because of the alteration of its natural state over time, with the title making us question our perception of beauty.

I used colour print-outs of preserve ‘beauty’ among a selection of 24 images of artworks for my performance and installation piece Contained Measures of Shifting States, shown at Tate Modern Tanks in 2012, and they formed a starting point for various discussions I had with people during the performance. One lady asked the name of the flower, and I said: ‘Red African daisy.’ She replied jokingly: ‘Do you think the artist was trying to say something in relation to the African continent?’ I thought about what she said, and wondered what it would mean if that were considered.

Otobong Nkanga (born 1974) is an artist based in Antwerp