Artist Dossier: El Anatsui

Artist Dossier: El Anatsui

Born in 1944, El Anatsui is recognised as one of the most influential artists of his generation, having been named by Britain’s The Independent as one of the fifty greatest cultural figures shaping the African continent’s art.

Originally from Ghana but living in Nigeria since 1975, Anatsui emerged from the vibrant post-independence art movements of 1960s and 1970s West Africa. In his practice, he transforms materials such as wood, metal, clay, and bottle caps into striking and engaging sculptural forms.

El Anatsui’s early work included ceramics (which he deliberately fractured), wall reliefs, sculptures fashioned from tropical hardwood, and found objects, such as old house posts. He frequently scorched some of the pieces to achieve a charred look. While in the United States in 1980, he began using power tools, particularly the chainsaw, which he describes as having a “language of violence, of tearing, of clawing, of dividing”—a metaphor for the long history of violence to Africa, including the centuries of slave trading. It is also a metaphor for the continent’s culture, traditions, and history, not taught but misrepresented and ignored during the colonial period.

Earth Shedding its Skin, 2019, aluminium and copper wire

In 1988, El Anatsui came across a sack of bottle tops. They would prove seminal in the creation of his beautiful, gauzy wall sculptures that have earned him global presence and taken him to the apex of his career, as exemplified by the fees his works command at auction. On November 16, 2018, Recycled Dreams (Uniting the World with a Stitch), his large installation from 2005, sold for over a million pounds at Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Afternoon Session auction.

Paths to the Okro Farm, 2006, aluminium and copper wire, 243.8 x 345.5 cm. Photo credit: sothebys.com

Other high selling works by Anatsui include Paths to the Okro Farm (2006), sold for £859,630 at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Afternoon auction in 2014; Another Plot (2007), sold for £775,095 at Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art auction in 2013; Peju’s Robe (2006), sold for £806,500 at Bonhams’ Post-War & Contemporary Art auction in 2016; and Plot a Plan I (2007), sold for £700,801 at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art auction in 2015.

Peju’s Robe, 2006, aluminium and copper wire, 245 x 310cm. Photo credit: bonhams.com

El Anatsui has featured in numerous African and international exhibitions, including Africa Remix, When I Last Wrote to You about Africa, and the 2015 Venice Biennale, where he won the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement.

He also received the 2009 Smithsonian National Museum of African Art 30th Anniversary Award and was elected honourary academician by London’s Royal Academy in 2014.

His works can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Centre Pompidou in Paris, the British Museum in London, and Museum Kunst Palast in Dusseldorf.

 

References

Biography: “El Anatsui,” retrieved on March 5, 2019 from http://www.omenkaonline.com

Biography: “El Anatsui,” retrieved on March 5, 2019 from

http://www.octobergallery.co.uk

Prices: “El Anatsui,” retrieved on March 6, 2019

http://sothebys.com

Prices: “El Anatsui,” retrieved on March 6, 2019

http://artprice.com

 


Oyindamola Olaniyan is the Head of Media and Communications at Revilo Publishing. She holds a B.sc in Botany from Lagos State University. Broadly experienced in this area, her core expertise includes social media management, content development and brand identity.

Comments

  1. Very impressive act from Africa. we pray to art like him.

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