El Anatsui

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Man's Cloth by El Anatsui (1998 – 2001), on display at the British Museum.

El Anatsui (born 1944) is a Ghanaian sculptor active for much of his career in Nigeria. He has drawn particular international attention for his iconic "bottle-top installations",[1] distinctive large-scale assemblages of thousands of pieces of aluminium sourced from alcohol recycling stations and sewn together with copper wire, transformed into metallic cloth-like wall sculptures in a way that can "draw connections between consumption, waste, and the environment".[2]

Early life and education[edit]

El Anatsui was born in Anyako, in the Volta Region of Ghana, and trained at the College of Art, University of Science and Technology, in Kumasi, in central Ghana.[3] He began teaching at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1975, and has become affiliated with the Nsukka group.[4] Critic John McDonald has commented: "It has taken many years to find artists who can occupy a prominent place on the global circuit while choosing to reside outside the metropolitan centres. William Kentridge has made his reputation from Johannesburg, and El Anatsui has conquered the planet while living and working in the Nigerian university town of Nsukka." [5]

Artistic practice[edit]

Many of Anatsui’s sculptures are mutable in form, conceived to be so free and flexible that they can be shaped in any way and altered in appearance for each installation. Working with wood, clay, metal, and—most recently—the discarded metal caps of liquor bottles, Anatsui breaks with sculpture’s traditional adherence to forms of fixed shape while visually referencing the history of abstraction in African and European art. The colorful and densely patterned fields of the works assembled from discarded liquor-bottle caps also trace a broader story drawing from the triangular trade of colonial and postcolonial economic and cultural exchange in Africa, told in the history of cast-off materials. The sculptures in wood and ceramics introduce ideas about the function of objects (their destruction, transformation, and regeneration) in everyday life, and the role of language in deciphering visual symbols.[6] Anatsui's preferred media are clay and wood, which he uses to create objects based on traditional Ghanaian beliefs and other subjects. He has cut wood with chainsaws and blackened it with acetylene torches; more recently, he has turned to installation art. Some of his works resemble woven cloths such as kente cloth but were not intended as textiles, but as sculptures.[7] Anatsui incorporates "Adinsubli" for his works, an acronym made up of uli, nsibidi, and Adinkra symbols,[8] alongside Ghanaian motifs.[4]


El Anatsui has exhibited his work around the world, including at the October Gallery, London (2016),[9] Brooklyn Museum (2013),[10] the Clark Art Institute (2011),[11] Rice University Art Gallery, Houston (2010),[12] Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2008–09);[13] National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C. (2008);[14] Fowler Museum at UCLA (2007);[15] Venice Biennale (2007);[16] Hayward Gallery (2005);[17] Liverpool Biennial (2002);[16] the National Museum of African Art (2001);[16] the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (2001);[16] the 8th Osaka Sculpture Triennale (1995);[16] the 5th Gwangju Biennale (2004); and the Venice Biennale (1990).[16]

A retrospective of his work, entitled When I Last Wrote to You About Africa, was organized by the Museum for African Art and opened at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in October 2010. It toured venues in the United States for three years, concluding at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

A major exhibition of recent works, entitled Gravity & Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui, had its New York premiere at the Brooklyn Museum in February 2013. Organized by the Akron Art Museum (exhibition: 2012), the exhibition later travelled to the Des Moines Art Center (2013–14) and the Bass Museum of Art in Miami (2014).[18]


In April 2015 the Venice Biennale announced that it has awarded El Anatsui the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, a prize that "acknowledges not just his recent successes internationally, but also his artistic influence amongst two generations of artists working in West Africa."[19][20]

On 26 May 2016, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Harvard University.[21][22][23]

In 2017 he was awarded the Praemium Imperiale, the first Ghanaian to win the international art prize.[24][25][26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ El Anatsui page at October Gallery, London.
  2. ^ "El Anatsui", Jack Shainman Gallery.
  3. ^ El Anatsui's artist web page at the October Gallery, London.
  4. ^ a b "El Anatsui" biography at the National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.". Retrieved 24 January 2010.
  5. ^ McDonald, John, "El Anatsui: out of Africa and taking the art world by storm", The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 February 2016.
  6. ^ Sollins, Marybeth. art:21 vol.6. Art21, Inc. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-615-54566-0.
  7. ^ Sollins, Marybeth. art:21 vol.6. Art21, Inc. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-615-54566-0.
  8. ^ Sollins, Marybeth. art:21 vol.6. Art21, Inc. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-615-54566-0.
  9. ^ Garner-Ferris, Chelsea,"El Anatsui review: From Nigeria to London, celebrated artist brings complex creations to October Gallery", Culture24, 13 February 2016.
  10. ^ "Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui". Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York. Retrieved 20 August 2014.
  11. ^ El Anatsui exhibition (2011). Clark Art Institute website, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  12. ^ "El Anatsui: Gli (Wall)". (2010). Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, Texas. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  13. ^ Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (2008). "Rich Legacy of African Textiles on View in Metropolitan Museum Exhibition". Retrieved 29 January 2010.
  14. ^ "El Anatsui at NMAA", Artnet, 17 January 2008. Retrieved 29 January 2010.
  15. ^ "El Anatsui: Gawu". Fowler Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA. (2007). Retrieved 1 July 2014.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Preece, R. J. (2006). "El Anatsui interview: Out of West Africa". Sculpture/artdesigncafe. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  17. ^ "AFRICA REMIX: Contemporary Art of a Continent". Hayward Gallery, London. Retrieved 29 January 2010.
  18. ^ "Gravity & Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui". Exhibition information. Akron Art Museum. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  19. ^ Russeth, Andrew (23 April 2015). "2015 Venice Biennale News. Venice Biennale Awards Golden Lions to El Anatsui, Susanne Ghez, Names Jury". author. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  20. ^ Toledo, Manuel, "Venice Biennale honours Africa's 'bottle-top artist' El Anatsui", BBC News, 9 May 2015.
  21. ^ Gibson, Katie, "Nine to receive honorary degrees", Harvard Gazette, 26 May 2016.
  22. ^ Gyamfi Asiedu, Kwasi, "Legendary Ghanaian artist receives honorary degree from Harvard", Pulse.com.gh, 30 May 2016.
  23. ^ "El Anatsui to receive honorary doctorate from Harvard", ArtPremium, 3 June 2016.
  24. ^ "2017 Sculpture El Anatsui", Praemium Imperiale.
  25. ^ Chow, Andrew R., "Shirin Neshat and Mikhail Baryshnikov Among Praemium Imperiale Winners", The New York Times, 12 September 2017.
  26. ^ "Baryshnikov, Youssou N'Dour among top art prize winners", Mail Online, 12 September 2017.

Further reading[edit]

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