Captivating and authenticity aretwo words that best describe the creation of El Anatsui’s art work. El Anatsuiis a contemporary artist born in Anayanko, Ghana in 1944.
He studied at theCollege of Art at the University of Science and Technology located in Kumasi.He then moved on to teaching at the University of Nigeria and held the positionof head of sculpture at UNN. His sculptures have awaken a new form of art, withits ability to be mutable in form allowing it to be altered in appearance. Theartwork gave insights on broader topics such as global consumerism,transformation and the environment. He has taken everyday materials andtransformed them into an authentic form of art. He made these sculptures with metalcaps and liquor bottles. The way to achieve the structure of the sculpture wasto crush the liquor bottles and caps to create a flat circle or strips.
Afterhaving the flat surface, they were sewed together with copper wire, which thenallowed the flexibility to shape them as pleased. Apart from bottle caps, Anatsuialso used materials that ranged from old milk tins, iron nails, printing platesand railway sleepers. His use of recycled materials showed that in Africaunlike other places in the world, people had to reuse materials because it wasa necessity, rather than it being a choice. For Anatsui, it was important thathis artwork reflected its African origins.
The colorful pattern of the liquorbottle and caps represent a story of colonial and postcolonial economiccultural exchange in Africa, told in the history of cast-off materials. As forthe entirety of the sculpture, it was initially inspired by the finding of adistillery in Nigeria. The distilleries produce dozens of brands of bottles ofvarious sizes which worked in Anatsui’s favor to be able to have multi coloredpieces for his art. Apart from the color and shapes, Anatsui loved the factthat the bottles have been touched by other humans giving the sculpture evenmore character.
In one of his sculptures, the main color was gold, whichrelated to traditional Ghanaian kente cloth, with the color gold meaning royal reverenceand authority. While some people perceived his artwork as the broken- downstate of the Ghanaian economy, the true message that he intended to show throughhis artwork was destruction that leads to renewal. Anatsui’s success has beenastonishing being in public collections that include the Metropolitan Museum ofArt, the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Billand Melinda Gates Foundation, the Setagaya Museum, the British Museum andplenty more.
Each of his sculptures have a different meaning, significance, andauthenticity. Which makes them more than just a tapestry for aesthetic. Anatsuibroke sculpture’s traditional adherence to forms of fixed shape while visuallyreferencing the history of abstraction in African and European art.