Contemporary Artists: The sculptures of El Anatsui

Anatsui: 'Intermittent Signals' (2009, found aluminum and copper wire)

In recent weeks we have looked at books on contemporary artists, including Ron Mueck, John Hoyland, Elizabeth Blackadder and Tony CraggToday we turn our attention to the Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui, whose work is being displayed at a new exhibition at the Clark, with an accompanying Yale book out this month.

Although born in Ghana in 1944, El Anatsui has spent the majority of his career working in Nigeria, where he has become one of the most significant artistic innovators of our time, merging personal, local, and global concerns in his visual creations. Anatsui was born in the town of Anyako (in the Volta region of Ghana), and trained at the College of Art, University of Science and Technology, in Kumasi, in central Ghana. He then began teaching at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1975, where he became affiliated with the Nsukka group (a group of artists known for working to revive the traditional practice of uliincorporating its designs into contemporary art using a variety of different media).

El Anatsui’s first sculptures were made of wood, carved and painted to resemble artifacts commonly found in African centres and marketplaces. In the late 1990s he began to work with the rigid materials for which his art is best known today: liquor bottle tops and metal foil from bottlenecks woven together with stiff copper wire to create large sculptural works. This change in materials, as well as in method and practice, has solidified Anatsui’s work as part of a twenty-first-century postmodern tradition, while simultaneously anchoring it within the tradition of his native culture. His work encourages us to think about consumerism, waste, and colonialism under the cloak of beauty.

El Anatsui at the Clark (exhibition catalogue)

At the Clark Art Institute, Anatsui’s colourful immersive sculptures are on display in a new exhibition (12 June – 16 October 2011) accompanying the new book El Anatsui from Yale University Press. In an illustrated essay, Alisa LaGamma provides a brief history of El Anatsui’s career and an analysis of his practice. The catalogue also includes a never-before-published conversation between noted artist and curator Chika Okeke-Agulu and Anatsui, as they discuss the themes of history, economy, sustainability and identity explored within Anatsui’s work. Dramatic photographs of the installations at the Clark provide a unique look at these immersive sculptures, including “Intermittent Signals” (2009) and “Delta” (2010), in the contemplative spaces of Stone Hill Center.

For more on El Anatsui’s exhibition visit the Clark’s exhibition microsite. You can also take a look at the videos below…

An Interview with El Anatsui

The installation of El Anatsui’s, Strips of Earth’s Skin

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