ARTIST INDEX: El Anatsui
Article written by Camilla Giachetta on March 31, 2017
"..When I create work.. it is in my view a metaphor reflecting an alternative response to examine...possibilities and extend the boundaries in art... my work can represent links in the evolving narrative of memory and identity."
- El Anatsui
El Anatsui (1944) was born in Anyako, Ghana. Lives in Nsukka, Nigeria. One of the most acclaimed sculptors on the international scene.
A critically acclaimed mixed-media artist. Over the years, El Anatsui has created innovative wood panel sculptures in which he has focused on themes relating to African history and colonial experience, using marks made by the chainsaw and oxyacetylene flame as a metaphor for the destruction of African indigenous cultures by colonialism and its aftermath.
El Anatsui gained worldwide recognition in the early 2000s for his shimmering, monumental wall hangings, visual feasts rich with associations to Africa, Europe, and America. These expansive sheets, hung in undulating swags and blocky folds, are composed of countless bits of brightly colored metal, the salvaged caps of liquor bottles, which El Anatsui and his team form into shapes, then link together with copper wire. A cross between painting, tapestry, and sculpture, the hangings grew out of his earlier investigations into re-purposing scrap materials, with their attendant cultural associations. “The link between Africa, Europe, and America is very much part of what is behind my work with bottle caps,” El Anatsui explains, referencing the fraught connection between the sale of slaves and liquor, and the transformative power of his art to link everyone involved in its creation.
Selected artworks currently on sale
Selected Past Shows
Gli (Wall), Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, January 28 - March 14, 2010
El Anatsui: Theory of Se, Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Hong Kong, May 12 - August 12, 2014
Surface Tension, The flag art fondation, New York, September 17 - December 12, 2015
El Anatsui: New Works, October Gallery, London, February 4 - April 2, 2016
Current & Upcoming Shows
El Anatsui: Meyina, Prince Laus Fund, Amsterdam, November 24 - April 28, 2016
Il cacciatore bianco, Frigoriferi milanesi, Milan, March 31 - June 6, 2017
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
The British Museum
El Anatsui employs over a dozen assistants to flatten the bottle caps into strips, which they then cut and shape into blocks. He arranges the blocks in a formation to his liking and the pieces are stitched together using copper wire. Most of his assistants aren’t actually aspiring artists, but rather are Nigerian students waiting to take their university entrance exams.
El Anatsui does not install each of his sculptures himself. Rather, he allows the curator of each museum or gallery displaying them to hang them. He relishes the unfixed physical quality of each sculpture, and while he prefers horizontal drapes over vertical ripples, does not give curators specific instructions, maintaining an element of surprise.
He says: “It’s like when I am firing a ceramic piece — until you open the kiln and let it cool it down you don’t know what it is going to look like. I like that surprise. That is why I allow — I prefer — that other people mount the works.”