Anatsui, El b.1944 / Adinsibuli Stood Tall
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Anatsui, El b.1944 / Adinsibuli Stood TallAnatsui, El b.1944 / Adinsibuli Stood TallAnatsui, El b.1944 / Adinsibuli Stood TallAnatsui, El b.1944 / Adinsibuli Stood TallAnatsui, El b.1944 / Adinsibuli Stood Tall
about this work
Adinsibuli stood Tall is one of numerous pieces made in recent years from old mortars that were originally used for the extraction of palm-oil from the palm-fruit. The taking of an old, hollowed out tree-trunk that has been so battered over the years as to become useless as a containing vessel and has therefore been discarded, and the transformation of this worthless and rejected object into art gives an insight into El Anatsui’s ways of working. The very facts of the mortar’s having been pounded to the point of breaking, of its having outlived its ‘utility’ and having been discarded enriches it with a specific ‘history’ and endow it with a power and presence all of its own. Having refashioned the mortar by the simple means of upending it and adding a piece broken from another mortar to represent a head, El Anatsui needed only to add small decorative touches to its surface to flesh out the mythic presence the historic mortar now acquires.

The figure is detectably that of a woman, standing with a gently swaying motion of her hips. Metal rings decorate her neck, and a few thinly beaten metal shapes, ornament her brow and the angle where her arm joins her body. The inner surface is engraved with a series of abstract coloured shapes, signs and symbols seemingly without order, some of which pick out and highlight the surface crevices of the weathered wood. As we look closely at the coloured shapes decorating the wooden surface we are aware that the different forms have different origins. The long cursive lines decorating her body are uli figures, recalling patterns the Igbo women would use to decorate themselves. Amongst the others are nsibidi motifs, secret ideographic signs replete with hidden meanings used by a non-Igbo people of the Cross Rivers region of Nigeria, and still others, the repeating circular patterns below her bosom, recall the adinkra textile patterns of Ghanaian Asante cloth. 

The final clue, presented in the title, is perhaps the message that this woman, representative of many generations of nameless women engaged in the repetitive process of extracting oil should stand tall, proudly confident in the possession of a personal complex of inherited histories and cultures. Adinsibuli becomes an actor who, in this drama, stands proudly forward and speaks her name, thereby expressing that ‘clear knowledge and definition of herself’- her true identity, based on the enriching combination of a plurality of cultures.

"In contrast to the aluminium caps, it is the wood’s absorption of light that fully illuminates his control of colour, scale, relief and intersectionality across the wood grain to narrate a complex story around the ‘Scramble for Africa’ and how the continent has negotiated these colonially imposed, hard-lined boundaries. Despite the individuality of each wooden piece, curved lines move across their grain in a free-flowing manner, reconstituting individuality from within and camouflaging difference at its border." Mae-Ling Jovenes Lokko is an architectural scientist and director of the Building Sciences Program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York, USA. For Frieze, Issue 200, Jan-Feb 2019

El Anatsui (b.1944, Ghana)

Adinsibuli Stood Tall, 1995

Tropical hardwoods, pigment and metal
239 x 40 x 37 cm.
94 1/8 x 15 3/4 x 14 9/16 in.
October Gallery, London, UK Current Location:
Switzerland - Basel - S SculptureAfrica


Dakar - Martigny: Hommage a la Biennale d'art Contemporain
Le Manoir De La Ville De Martigny
June 2016 - September 2016

El Anatsui
October Gallery, London, UK
February 2015 - March 2015

Masters of the Transvangarde
October Gallery, London, UK
May 2013 - August 2013

El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote To You About Africa
organised by the Museum for African Art, New York, USA. Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada; Davis
December 2010 - October 2012

Transvangarde: Leading Contemporary Artists
October Gallery, London, UK
December 2009 - March 2010

Joburg Artfair
Johannesburg, South Africa
April 2009

El Anatsui: A Sculpted History of Africa
October Gallery, London, UK
July 1998

An Inside Story - African Art of our Time
Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo; Tokushima Modern Art Museum, Tokushima; Himeji City Museum of Arts, Hime
November 1995 - April 1996


Mads Olesen , Dakar-Martigny Hommage a la Biennale d'art contemporain
Manoir de la Ville de Martigny (Catalogue), 2016

El Anatsui
October Gallery (Catalogue), 2013

Susan Vogel, El Anatsui
Prestel Publishing (Book), 2012

L. M. Binder, El Anatsui; When I Last Wrote to You about Africa
Published by the Museum for African Art (Book), 2010

G. Houghton, Ancestral Voices: El Anatsui
World Sculpture News (Magazine), Spring 1998

J. Picton, G. Houghton, Y. Kawaguchi, E. Lalouschek, S. Njami, E. Péri-Willis , El Anatsui : A Sculpted History of Africa of Africa
Saffron Books & October Gallery (Book), 1998

Artwork History
  • artist origin
  • provenance
  • current location
  • exhibitions
  • multiple

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