‘Several things went through my mind when I found the bag of bottle tops in the bush,’ he says. ‘I thought of the objects as links between my continent, Africa, and the rest of Europe. Objects such as these were introduced to Africa by Europeans when they came as traders... I thought that the bottle caps had a strong reference to the history of Africa’ (Susan Mullin Vogel, El Anatsui: Art and Life, Prestel, 2012, p. 53-43).
In Earth Developing More Roots, we see a combination of techniques developed in Anatsui’s progression with his bottle-neck installations. In the upper left corner, a sheer cluster hangs loosely in a delicate form. Anatsui began to experiment with this aesthetic in 2006, exploring the characteristics of ‘visible space in an airy dimensionality’ (ibid, p. 146). Spread freely cross the sculpture, long compact strands of colour lay as if in moving micro-biological form. As suggested by the title, Earth Developing More Roots alludes to the growing of more organic life on the planet.
With its textural form, Anatsui’s works are reminiscent of the traditional kente cloth from Ghana. The red, yellow, and black are colours commonly used in the woven fabric, and symbolic of Ghana’s flag. However, Anatsui’s relationship with weaving cloth is a complex multi-layered one. His father was a master weaver of kente cloth, but El Anatsui was interested in the sculptural form of textiles. ‘The idea of a sheet is that you can shape and reshape it. It can be on the floor, it can be up on the ceiling, it can be up on the wall – all that fluidity if behind the concept’ (ibid, p. 119 - 120).
Earth Developing More Roots continues with a variation of the consistent colour palette seen in Anatsui’s earlier bottle cap works. Taking its cue from the 'Gawu Group', a group of eleven seminal bottle cap works made between 2001 and 2004, this work is part of the second generation of bottle cap sculptures which address universal themes. In alignment with Anatsui’s increasing global concerns, Earth Developing More Roots refers to a world beyond Africa. Other recent works in the series are similarly named Strips of Earth’s Skin (2008), New World Map (2010), Straying Continents (2010), and Stressed World (2011).
El Anatsui was born in 1944 in the Gold Coast, thirteen years before the British colony gained independence and became known as Ghana. From 1965 – 1969, Anatsui studied sculpture and art education at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi. He moved to Nsukka, Nigeria in 1975 to expand his career opportunities as an artist.
Over the following decades, Anatsui established his reputation as an well-respected artist, with exhibited works at the 44th and 52nd Venice Biennale, in addition to solo exhibitions at the Nigerian National Museum (1991) and multiple travelling solo exhibitions at museums in Japan, Canada, and the USA. El Anatsui is included in several notable collections which include those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art in New York, Brooklyn Museum, Des Moines Art Center in Iowa, Centre Pompidou, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Akron Art Museum, St. Louis Art Museum, Museum Kunstpalast, Setagaya Museum, and the British Museum.
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