|Healer, 2006. Aluminium and Copper Wire, 210cm x 305cm
One of the world’s most celebrated sculptors comes to New York with highlights from his acclaimed cloth series. El Anatsui's jaw-dropping installations have provoked a frenzy of international attention in recent years, with institutions and audiences clamouring for these sumptuous, mesmerising cloths made from thousands of aluminium liquor bottle tops.
When local distilleries in Nigeria recycle each other's bottles, the screw caps associated with each brand are discarded in the process. By collecting these materials, and laboriously sewing them together with copper wire, Anatsui’s transformative process aims to "subvert the stereotype of metal as a stiff, rigid medium and rather showing it as a soft, pliable, almost sensuous material capable of attaining immense dimensions and being adapted to specific spaces" (Anatsui 2005).
|Left: Sasa, 2004, Aluminium and Copper Wire. Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris
Right: El Anatsui, Selfridges Installation, London, 2005
Beyond the powerful visual impact of the works, the cloths open myriad possibilities for personal response and interpretation. Referencing diverse relationships of trade, materiality, tradition and modernity between West Africa, Europe, and the Americas, Anatsui draws our attention to the human histories of the materials that surround us. Bottles of liquor, for example, were the units of currency preferred by European traders seeking to acquire slaves and ivory on the West African coast. Liquor from specially established UK distilleries, and rum, (a by-product of the Caribbean sugar plantations for which Africa had supplied the labour), was exchanged at great advantage to the European traders. Anatsui’s work gently alerts us to these histories, interlacing material and metaphor like elements within a cloth.Throughout a distinguished forty-year career as a sculptor and professor, Anatsui has addressed a vast range of social, political and historical concerns, and embraced an equally diverse vocabulary of media and process. Using anything from chainsaws and welding torches to this intricate and meditative 'sewing' process, he has shaped materials ranging from cassava graters and railway sleepers to driftwood, iron nails and obituary notice printing plates. Since 1995 he has worked with the October Gallery, London, who have toured his work to venues around the world. Collected by major institutions, from the British Museum to the Centre Pompidou, the de Young Museum, San Francisco, to the Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Anatsui is today justly recognised as one of the most original and compelling artists of his generation.
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|Between Earth and Heaven (detail) , 2006. Aluminium and Copper Wire, 230cm x 320cm
In Mr. Anatsui's hands, it is a shining, new kind of cloth, permeable but indestructible. It is a universal repository of names of infinite extension. Glinting and shimmering, it reflects an African essence of three interchangeable parts always in motion: memory, reality, determination.
Raphael Rubinstein, Art in America, May 2006