February 11 to March 13
El Anatsui, "Intermittent Signals", 2009, found aluminum and copper wire, 11 feet x 35 feet
(All images in this post courtesy of the Jack Shainman Gallery website)
El Anatsui is a native of Ghana, head of the sculpture department at the University of Nigeria-Nsukka (UNN), where he has taught since 1975. He was born in 1944, has influenced many young artists in Nigeria and West Africa and has become very successful with his metal cloth works made from pieces of found aluminum wired together with copper wire.
I was wowed by his work the first time I saw it online and have posted a couple of times in this blog about him (for instance, here and here). I also did a longer post here about the origins of el Anatsui's work and how it relates to Adinkra and Kente cloth. With all of this, I have never seen his work in person, and I'm so looking forward to it seeing it at the show that opens next week. The gallery also has a large catalog of el Anatsui's work available (see their website) and I'm gonna get me one.
"Three Continents", 2009, found aluminum and copper wire, 8 feet x 16 feet
What appeals to me so much about his work is first of all its beauty and golden mosaic-like quality, but also the fact that it's made from found and recycled material, that it has a very physical presence, that it resides somewhere between flat painting and volumetric sculpture and that el Anatsui has very definite meanings and emotional associations motivating his work. The huge size of the works are also enveloping (I imagine), and, ever practical as I am, I really like that they probably fold up and take relatively little space to ship and store.
"Fading Scroll", 2007, found aluminum and copper wire, 8 feet x 39 feet
"Fading Scroll" detail
What I didn't mention above is the "textileness" of the work; that is, his pieces are like giant, metallic pieces of cloth. Textiles play such a large part in the African heritage (indeed in human heritage) that we are often unaware of the important place they hold in every culture. They are so ubiquitous that we don't see them for what they mean or symbolize.
An example of the more muted-color kente cloth woven in Ghana by the Ewe people, which is el Anatasui's heritage
In regard to Africa, Kente cloth has come to represent Africa and African heritage. El Anatsui's father and brothers wove kente cloth in his native Ghana, and he has said about his own work: "I have discovered only much later...that cloth has been a recurring theme or leitmotif, and it is featured in so many dimensions." The specifically African textiles of Adinkra and Kente "communicate cultural and philosophical meanings, social codes of conduct, religious beliefs, political thought and aesthetic principles." (quoting from the Fowler Museum, UCLA, website about "GAWU", el Anatsui's show.)
Untitled, 2007, aluminum and copper wire, 144" x 192" (the first one I've seen with so much black in it - my favorite color)
Besides this deep foundation in textiles, the meaning in el Anatsui's work also derives from the materials he uses - aluminum labels and wrappings from the local Nigerian brands of whiskey, rum, vodka, brandy and other liquors. He says his works "encapsulate the essence of the alcoholic drinks which were brought to Africa by Europeans as trade items at the time of the earliest contact between the two peoples." The brand names of the Nigerian liquors have their own connotations, for example, Chairman, Dark Sailor, King Solomon, 007, Top Squad, etc.
"Bleeding Takari II, 2007, aluminum and copper wire, about 13 x 19 feet
(I tried to find out what this referenced and learned that the Takari are/were northern Nigerian immigrants in northern Sudan, but I could not discover what social or political events el Anatsui really referred to with the bleeding.)
This piece was just called "Installation View 2007" at the Palazzo Fortuny, Venice, Italy, and I assume it was installed at the 2007 Biennale. This speaks to me so much of Africa - huge, beautiful and full of of holes where the fabric is unraveling because of war, famine, AIDS, poverty, political unrest and deliberate disregard by the rest of the world.