- El Anatsui
- Adinkra Sasa
- aluminium bottle tops, copper wire and fabric
- 487.7 by 548.6cm.; 192 by 216in.
- Executed in 2003.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2008
Susan Mullin Vogel, El Anatsui: Art and Life, Munich 2012, p. 13 and p. 60, no. 54, illustrated in colour
From a distance the work’s elegant dark surface separated by shimmering gold lines elicits a distinctly monochromatic pattern, a compositional order much less apparent in many of his other tapestries. However, upon closer inspection the bold designs, shapes and patterns decorating the hundreds of individual bottle caps that are woven together in a subtly undulating silhouette, exude a plethora of light and colour. Anatsui's mesmerising metal cloths represent unique visual achievements within the history of both African and Western artistic expression. However, in an attempt to place his exceptional productions within the framework of Western art history art critics have associated his work with a number of Western movements and styles. The critic Robert Storr for example described his work as: "An apparent fusion of Gustav Klimt and Christo, George Seurat and Richard Tuttle, Anatsui's wall hangings recall disparate Modernist sweet spots without quite settling into any familiar category" (Robert Storr in: Susan Mullin Vogel, El Anatsui, Munich 2012, p. 16).
Born in Ghana in 1944 Anatsui is part of a generation shaped by the impact of political independence and globalisation: a cultural sea change that gradually transformed his country during the second half of the century. Herein, Anatsui draws inspiration from several ‘Africas’; 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. 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: "They are sourced from my immediate environment …They are thought to have lost value. They are ignored, discarded or thrown away...To me, their provenance imbues or charges them with history and content, which I seek to explore in order to highlight certain conditions of mankind's existence, as well as his relationship with himself and the environment" (El Anatsui quoted in: ibid., p. 104).
Debris of today's consumer culture, bottle tops are a material with a political resonance and symbolic value, which the artist first came across when he found a pile of discarded milk tin lids outside his studio in Nsukka, Nigeria in 1998. Subverting the stereotype of metal as a hard, stiff material by flattening, twisting and bending the caps he weaves them together like a bejewelled fabric. The dazzling colours and patterns resemble those of West Africa's native Kente cloth, a ceremonial tapestry originally worn by kings and traditionally adorned with the West African Adinkra symbols. 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. Similarly the cloth itself carries a venerable African significance. Anatsui emphasised the cultural significance of the traditional textiles by quoting Sonya Clark who claimed: "The cloth is to the African what monuments are to Westerners" (El Anatsui cited by Atta Kwami in: 'Nsukka – A Place to Hide: Towards a Conversation with El Anatsui' in Exhibition Catalogue, Llandudno, Oriel Mostyn Gallery, El Anatsui Gawu, 2003, p. 32). Even though, the sheer scale of his metal sheets immediately commands monumental status, unlike public monuments, his works are not imbued with a purely predetermined cultural vocabulary, but inspire a manifold of narratives and dialectics. Having been traded as valuable commodities in the Western slave trade, for example, both the bottle tops and the cloths allude to the continent's colonial past.
His country's history and culture provide a constant inspiration for artistic production and Anatsui produces alchemical transformations that are not only visually encapsulating but also culturally resonating. Employing idioms and references from his native country Anatsui touches upon subjects that are both distinctly immediate and profoundly universal in their effect.