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Dissecting El Anatsui’s midcareer survey at Brooklyn Museum

By Japhet Alakam

Those who think that great contemporary art comes only from developed countries in the West, or from cities in fast-growing parts of China, India or Latin America, should make a re think as Anatsui’s immense and astonishing creations have revealed that Africa is very much a continent to reckon with, artistically speaking.

Viewers are free to visit the Brooklyn Museum where Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works, a breath-taking solo exhibition by unarguably Africa’s most celebrated contemporary artist, El Anatsui is showing.

*One of the works by El Anatsui
*One of the works by El Anatsui

The ongoing show which will run until August 4, features over 30 works in metal and wood that transform appropriated objects into site-specific sculptures. Anatsui converts found materials into a new type of media that lies between sculpture and painting, combining aesthetic traditions from his birth country, Ghana; his home in Nsukka, Nigeria; and the global history of abstraction.

Included in the exhibition are twelve recent monumental wall and floor sculptures, widely considered to represent the apex of Anatsui’s career. The metal wall works, created with bottle caps from a distillery in Nsukka, are pieced together to form colorful, textured hangings that take on radically new shapes with each installation.

Anatsui is captivated by his materials’ history of use, reflecting his own nomadic background. Gravity and Grace responds to a long history of innovations in abstract art and performance, building upon cross-cultural exchange among Africa, Europe, and the Americas and presenting works in a wholly new, African medium

Born in Ghana and currently working in Nigeria, Anatsui is best known for his vibrant large-scale sculptures made from common discarded materials. By folding thousands of foil liquor bottle tops in several distinct ways, arranging them and connecting them together into sheets, he is able to transform what once was garbage into beautiful works that appear to flow like textiles and burst with color like abstract painting.

For other pieces, he takes used metal printing plates and combines them into standing stones reminiscent of Stonehenge. And for others, he connects the caps from milk containers into glorious serpentine rivers of gold and silver. Carved wooden pieces and works on paper round out the exhibit, and show Anatsui’s artistry with more traditional mediums and techniques.


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