El Anatsui (b.1944, Ghana)

El Anatsui was born in 1944, in Anyako, the Ewe-speaking area of Ghana and trained at the College of Art, University of Science and Technology, in Kumasi. He began teaching at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1975, and subsequently became affiliated with the Nskukkagroup, a group of artists who worked in the University of Nigeria during the 1970's.
Anatsui is an artist firmly rooted in his geographical surroundings, which he turns to for ideological as well as material input. Indeed many of his works, such as his elaborate metal weavings, are constructed from local object trouvé ranging from bottle tops, wrapping paper and other detritus that he comes across on road-side dumps in Nigeria. Commenting on this tendency to work with local materials, the artist explains that “Art grows out of each particular situation, and I believe that artists are better off working with whatever their environment throws up." This ideal is certainly discernible in Anatsui's own work, which not only uses local materials but also traditional Ghanaian motifs and aesthetic devices.

One of Anatsui's most celebrated bodies of work, the 'cloth series', has been likened to a variation of the Ghanaian kente cloth, a popular cloth which is defined by its colorful strip pattern. To create the pieces, Anatsui gathered hundreds of liquor-bottle tops and painstakingly flattened and pierced them in order to weave them together with copper wire. The result is wonderful web of muted golds and reds which are woven together in fanciful, traditional patterns. It has been noted that Anatsui's unique choice of material and form represents a decisive commentary on the role of both liquor and cloth in the European slave trade on the West African coast and that his use of recycled materials may allude to the death and re-birth experienced by post-colonial countries. The cloth series, which is awash with various liquor brand names and logos printed on the bottle-tops, also raises contemporary concerns about globalization and a consumer culture that supports the international capitalist system, which has played a role in preventing the African continent from economically emancipating itself.

Anatsui’s solo exhibition, ‘Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui’ presented at the Brooklyn Museum, New York having earlier been on display at the Akron Art Museum, Ohio. Another exhibition, ‘El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote To You About Africa’, traveled to six museums in USA and Canada between 2010 and 2012 and in June 2013, he will be transforming the facade of the Royal Academy, London with a humongous 15m x 23m cloth installation, one of the largest that has ever been created.

Anatsui, El b.1944

related artists / Ghana / Africa