Internationally acclaimed, El Anatsui is one of the most exhilarating contemporary visual artists to have emerged from Ghana, West Africa. Distilling through his revolutionary vision, Anatsui develops unique methods of creation and fantastical fabric manipulation, effectively creating powerful works which address a vast range of social, political and historical topics. Man's Cloth II from Anatsui's iconic bottle-top installations is a mesmerizing multi-colored tapestry, created from thousands of aluminum bottle-tops which form gleaming metallic planes laden with meaning and references. Transforming found objects into fine art, Anatsui's cloths cause the observer to examine their preconceptions of waste material, its relationship to beauty and how art cannot be confined to strict definitions.
This series was originally conceived ten years ago subsequent to the artist examining the contents of a household rubbish can, in which he found numerous vibrantly colored metal screw tops of liquor bottles from local distilleries. He collected these from several bins and began to manipulate the materials which he had collected. The artist’s exquisite textiles are formed from hammered, cut, and folded caps; which are then sewn together with copper wire, giving the sculpture freedom of movement, leading to breath-taking manipulations of light and shadow. Susan Mullin Vogel notes, "All drapings create a kind of visual dissonance, between the plastic forms of the draping and the graphic forms of the compositions. Just as viewers see first the whole tissue, then the individual tesserae of Anatsui's suspended sculptures, they simultaneously apprehend dramatically lit and shadowed volumes overlaid by lines and colors that bear no compositional relationship to them" (Susan Mullin Vogel, El Anatsui: Art and Life, New York, 2012, p. 130). Within his works, the artist skillfully evokes the recognized aesthetics of painting without the application of physical paint. This distinctive method produces metal carpet works such as Man's Cloth II on an epic scale which succeed in inspiring awe within the viewer.
Anatsui draws inspiration from a dichotomous spectrum of cultural influences that comprise the artist’s contemporary African surroundings through to the indigenous rural environments of his parents’ generation and the British-Colonial Africa of his own childhood. Having developed a strong curiosity for Ghana's Ewe and Asante cultures from an early age, Anatsui's incorporation of these influences are a reflection of a longstanding intellectual project influenced by the childhood memories of his native country. As Anatsui explains, the materials in his works denote traces of his environment, often cast-off as litter the bottle tops are nevertheless imbued with significant cultural qualities and meanings.
The dazzling colors and patterns resemble those of West Africa's native Kente cloth, a ceremonial tapestry originally worn by kings for official occasions; Kente cloth is correspondingly of great importance to Ghanaians, commemorating events, persons and purposes. In a recent interview, Anatsui explains that the present work’s predecessor, Man’s Cloth, which is now displayed in the British Museum’s Sainsbury African Galleries, was one of the first works directly stemming from the influence of Kente cloth, both in title and design. As the successor to Man’s Cloth, the present work alludes to the cultural history of Ghana, weaving the mutual histories of past and present into one and exemplifies the artist’s ability to imbue an enchantingly fluid tapestry with a rich and wonderful heritage. In Man's Cloth II, Anatsui effectively creates contemporary art with antiquated qualities connecting the individual and collective histories of the African continent; referencing its history, consumption, and globalization.
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