Photographs by Mike Agee
The sculptor El Anatsui, born in Ghana in 1944, merges personal, local, and global concerns in his visual creations. Weaving together discarded aluminum tops from Nigerian liquor bottles, Anatsui creates large-scale sculptures called gawu (“metal” or “fashioned cloth” in the artist’s first language) that demonstrate a fascinating interplay of color, shape, and fluidity. For Anatsui, the bottle caps represent a link between Africa, Europe, and North America: “Alcohol was one of the commodities [Europeans] brought with them to exchange for goods in Africa,” he explains. “Eventually alcohol became one of the items used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. . . . I thought that the bottle caps had a strong reference to the history of Africa.”
Although Anatsui has exhibited a diverse and extraordinary body of work for more than thirty years, he came to international prominence in 2004, when his work was included in Africa Remix, the landmark exhibition presented in Düsseldorf, London, Paris, Tokyo, and Stockholm.
Here at the Clark, Anatsui’s colorful works bring their own architecture and logic into Tadao Ando’s Stone Hill Center, a building shaped around light and delicate transitions. These contemplative spaces provide an undistracted environment where one can experience Anatsui’s immersive sculptures and consider the stories they tell of consumerism, waste, and colonialism under the cloak of beauty.
This exhibition was organized by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute and was curated by David Breslin.
El Anatsui’s work is also the subject of a retrospective organized by the Museum for African Art that is currently touring North America.