Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Gravity & Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui

Drifting Continents, 2009
aluminum, copper wire

Showing at the Brooklyn Museum of Art until August 4 are more than thirty works by the Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui. To quote from the text on the website, "Anatsui converts found materials into a new type of media that lies between sculpture and painting...."

Gli (Wall), 2010
aluminum and copper wire

Further, "Included in the exhibition are twelve recent monumental wall and floor sculptures, widely considered to represent the apex of Anatsui’s career. The metal wall works, created with bottle caps from a distillery in Nsukka, are pieced together to form colorful, textured hangings that take on radically new shapes with each installation. Anatsui is captivated by his materials’ history of use, reflecting his own nomadic background. Gravity and Grace responds to a long history of innovations in abstract art and performance, building upon cross-cultural exchange among Africa, Europe, and the Americas and presenting works in a wholly new, African medium."

Ozone Layer, 2010
aluminum and copper wire

The piece on the left, Ozone Layer, was placed under a fan and the air current caused some of the unsecured bits of metal to flutter and tinkle like wind chimes. 

Waste Paper Bags, 2004 - 10
Aluminum printing plates, paint, copper wire

To quote from the wall card, "Made from discarded plates used for printing everything from newspaper sports, political and obituary pages to wedding invitations, the malleable sheets comprising Waste Paper evoke everyday Nigerian life through universally recognizable forms.

"They may also suggest a particular Nigerian experience that affected this Ghanaian artist. The forms resemble large woven bags that became known as "Ghana must-go" bags in the early 1980's, when Nigerians hostile toward Ghanaian refugees who had fled political and economic unrest suggested they pack their belongings in such sacks and return home. They speak to the artist's own nomadic history, while recalling a tragic moment that challenged his pan-African ideals."

Currents, undated
Wood cut with chain saw and painted

It was also interesting to see some of El Anatsui's earlier sculpture in wood.

Seers, 1993, modified 2010

Kente cloth, 1930 - 1950
cotton and silk

On display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was another sculpture by El Anatsui, Between Heaven and Earth. It was displayed directly across from a piece of Kente cloth, produced in Ghana between 1930 - 1950. These costly cloths were worn by men at festivals, religious celebrations, and at events marking important transitions in an individual's life. 

Between Heaven and Earth, 2006
aluminum and copper wire

To quote from the curator's notes, 

"The undulation of this work evokes that tactile quality [of the Kente cloth], and its resplendent color scheme of gold, red, and black translate and transpose the aesthetic of finely woven silk into the medium of base metal recycled from liquor bottle caps."

The use of salvaged liquor bottle caps no doubt adds another layer of meaning to these pieces. With all the glitter and visual texture of a Klimt painting, the artist is also saying something about colonialism and the detritus of consumerism.

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