Works by El Anatsui at Sotheby's
El Anatsui Biography
Born in Ghana in 1944, El Anatsui is widely recognised as one of the most important artists to emerge from the African continent in recent years. Through his practice, the artist transforms material such as wood, metal, clay and bottle caps into striking sculptural forms. El Anatsui moved to Nigeria in 1957 where he began his career by working with wood in a series of burnt, incised and painted panels. Today, the artist is most celebrated for his glimmering mutable bottlecap wall hangings, which are characterised not only by their size but also their fabric like quality and reminiscence of traditional Kente cloth of the Ashanti people of Ghana.
El Anatsui utilises traditional African techniques in order to promote discourse about memory and identity. The environment of West Africa, where the artist was born and currently works and lives, greatly affects the materials he incorporates in his artistic production. El Anatsui’s by chance encounter with a bag of bottle tops found in a bush would profoundly influence his practice and ultimately give life to his distinguishable installations. Although seemingly random, the bottle tops signified to the artist, the link between Europe and Africa. Throughout his work, El Anatsui seeks to promote the connectivity between Africa, America and Europe while simultaneously recalling the continent’s history of colonialism and Westernization. El Anatsui describes his work as constantly evolving, mirroring the progressive journey of a human life – perpetually in flux.
El Anatsui’s first major solo exhibition outside Africa took place in 1995 in London’s October Gallery. Since then, the artist has participated in several key exhibitions such as Africa Remix (2004 -2007), which travelled to the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Hayward Gallery in London, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Museum Kunst Palast in Dusseldorf, Johannesburg Art Gallery and Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. In 2007, El Anatsui was invited to exhibit his works at the Venice Biennale in the Palazzo Fortuny and Arsenale. El Anatsui has enjoyed several ground-breaking exhibitions such as the internationally touring exhibition, When I Last Wrote to you About Africa in 2010 and a solo show in 2008 at Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in D.C. The artist has continued to achieve global recognition, having received prestigious awards such as the 2015 Venice Biennale Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement and the 2009 Smithsonian National Museum of African Art 30th Anniversary Award, cementing his position as one of the world’s leading contemporary artists. His works can be seen in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Centre Pompidou in Paris, the British Museum in London, Museum Kunst Palast in Dusseldorf, and several others.