El Anatsui

Red Block, 2010

Red Block, 2010

A few weeks ago I went to The Broad, a contemporary art museum in Los Angeles. It contains over 2,000 pieces of postwar and contemporary art, but there was one that intrigued me the most. Red Block is an aluminum and copper wire sculpture by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui.

El Anatsui was born in Ghana and currently lives and works between Ghana and Nigeria; he is an internationally acclaimed artist who crafts simple materials into modern sculptures that create distinctive visual impact. He uses items that are usually seen as trash, such as bottle caps, copper wire, and reused aluminum commercial packaging. El Anatsui is best known for large scale sculptures created by connecting thousands of crumpled pieces of metal (salvaged from local recycling centers) with copper wire, such as Red Block. One reviewer at the Jack Shainman Gallery nailed his observation saying: “These intricate works, which can grow to be massive in scale, are both luminous and weighty, meticulously fabricated yet malleable.”  As you can (hopefully) see in the above photo, El Anatsui uses the trash of his country to represent what is beautiful. His work hangs like a tapestry, which references kente cloth. Kente cloth is an all-purpose piece of fabric used in sub-Saharan African cultures for clothes, linens, household items, and more. The function of the kente cloth is often determined by its use.

His use of the recycled materials reflects his interest in reuse, transformation, and an innate desire to connect to his continent while transcending the limitations of place. He brings attention to the problems facing modern Africans such as extreme poverty, alcoholism, and the impact of global trade on the continent's many economies, while also drawing connections between consumption, waste, and the environment.

El Anatsui's work beautifully captures the dichotomy of Ghana and much of Africa. There is a beauty that is nearly indescribable, but it often comes following or alongside ugliness and waste. I love the fact that his work is allowing Nigeria and Ghana to come into the discussion at major galleries and exhibits. According to the Jack Shainman Gallery, "Anatsui is included in numerous private and public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Brooklyn Museum, New York, the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa, the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Washington, the Akron Art Museum, Ohio, the St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri, the Museum Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf, the Setagaya Museum, Tokyo, and the British Museum, London." How cool is it that a little piece of Ghana has made its way to all those places? El Anatsui is a true artist who shows that anything can be made beautiful again.

Until next time,