You may have never heard of El Anatsui, but he has become a global art star.
According to the Feb. 28, New York Times, the Ghanaian’s art exhibit “Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui,” is on display at the Brooklyn Museum. Anatsui’s wall hangings, “majestic as they are, do not use scale as a cudgel,” the NYT reports. They are indeed, “formidable works.”
El Anatsui was born in 1944 in Ghana - a British colony at the time. His father was a fisherman and master weaver of kente cloth. Anatsui never learned the skill or trade of his father; instead, he took a different route, studied art, and began working with local materials. His first works were created from wooden trays collected at the local markets.
One day while scavenging the streets, Anatsui came upon a bag full of liquor bottle caps. “The bottle tops come in different colors, mainly red, gold, black and yellow — a limited palette but one rich enough to evoke Byzantine mosaics and Klimt paintings,”
The bottle caps were “pressed flat, twisted, or cut into circles, then punctured, the caps could be wired together into panels or blocks, which were joined to form pliant, fabric-like sheets, each sheet a whole made of fragments, and, potentially at least, endlessly expandable,” says well known art critic, Holland Cotter.
Liquor was brought to Africa with Colonialism and it was rum production that advanced the Trans-Atlantic slave trade linking his work to “post-colonial poverty and strife.”
The process in which these wall hangings are created is three-fold – studio workers flatten, twist, and link the bottle caps together. Then, it is by the hands of the artist the blocks or sheets of woven bits of metal are configured into larger pieces. The final step is the installation and depending on the way a curator chooses to hang the opulent tapestry of metal, ” you may fall in love with a piece in one show and not even recognize it on its next outing.”
The exhibit “Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui” runs through Aug. 4 at the Brooklyn Museum.
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