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b. 1944, Ghana

El Anatsui Biography

Ghana-born El Anatsui is an artist who employs simple materials to create complex and often large-scale installations. Anatsui uses a diverse range of mediums—including clay, wood and bottle caps—to portray a range of themes stemming from political, social, environmental and historical concerns. His works present a unique formal language informed by his interest in reuse, postcolonial discourse, consumption, waste and the environment. 

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Emerging from post-independence art movements of West Africa in the 1960s and 1970s, Anatsui gained prominence in 2002 when he began using his distinct bottle cap weaving technique to create large-scale assemblages. These works consist of thousands of pieces of aluminium bottle caps and other materials sewn together with copper wire. This can be seen in the work Skylines? (2008), where the bottle caps are woven together to create folds that cascade across and down the gallery wall, creating the effect of a metallic cloth-like structure that shimmers in deceptive decadence. In Skylines? and other wall hanging works, Anatsui reuses metals from alcohol recycling stations. The use of alcohol bottle caps references the industry that Europeans brought to Africa, and the work thus explores postcolonial themes relating to exchange. The use of the recycled material also alludes to Anatsui’s interest in visualising waste and consumption, reflecting an environmentalist ethos. 

In a report on the artist’s exhibition at Sydney’s Carriageworks (El Anatsui: Five Decades [7 January–6 March 2015]), Ocula contributor Rachel Fuller noted that of the utmost concern to Anatsui is that ‘a work must be fluid and free, it must embody the change inherent in everyday life. As Anatsui says, “The form is not a given, but it is a proposition”.’ The artist therefore creates variable forms that allow flexibility in order to be shaped and altered to appear differently in each installation. His works are inherently impermanent as they are taken down, folded then reassembled slightly differently at each exhibition. By making the works mutable, the artist breaks with the form of traditional sculpture. He also challenges convention by hanging his work on walls, from ceilings and laying them on the ground. An example is Gli (Wall) (2010), which hangs from the high ceiling of the gallery interior. The work appears thin and light due to its transparency, resembling a delicate metal curtain. 

Nina Lala | Ocula | 2017

El Anatsui Featured Artworks

E-Witness by El Anatsui contemporary artwork
El AnatsuiE-Witness, 2017Aluminium, bottle tops, roofing sheets and copper wire
250.5 x 229.5 cm
Axel Vervoordt Gallery Enquire about this work
Untitled (from the Circular Series) by El Anatsui contemporary artwork
El AnatsuiUntitled (from the Circular Series), 2016Ink on Somerset 300gsm paper, with chine collé gold foil
84.3 x 84.3 cm
Barakat Contemporary Enquire about this work
Dzi II by El Anatsui contemporary artwork
El AnatsuiDzi II, 2015Aluminium and copper wire
290 x 331 cm
Barakat Contemporary Enquire about this work
Tse by El Anatsui contemporary artwork
El AnatsuiTse, 2016Bottle caps
260 x 250 cm
Goodman Gallery Enquire about this work
E-witness by El Anatsui contemporary artwork
El AnatsuiE-witness, 2017Aluminium, bottle tops, roofing sheets and copper wire
250 x 229 cm
Axel Vervoordt Gallery Enquire about this work
Flame of/in the Forest by El Anatsui contemporary artwork
El AnatsuiFlame of/in the Forest, 2012Aluminium and copper wire
327 x 226 cm
Axel Vervoordt Gallery Enquire about this work
AG + BA by El Anatsui contemporary artwork
El AnatsuiAG + BA, 2014Aluminium, copper wire and nylon string
KEWENIG Enquire about this work
Blood of Sweat by El Anatsui contemporary artwork
El AnatsuiBlood of Sweat, 2015Aluminium and copper wire
KEWENIG Enquire about this work

El Anatsui Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, I’ve grown roses in this garden of mine at Goodman Gallery, London
Closed
3 October–2 November 2019 Group Exhibition I’ve grown roses in this garden of mine Goodman GalleryLondon
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, The Crime of Adolf Loos at Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Antwerp
Closed
16 March–25 May 2019 Group Exhibition The Crime of Adolf Loos Axel Vervoordt GalleryAntwerp
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Domestic Alien at Gazelli Art House, Baku
Closed
18 November 2017–31 March 2018 Group Exhibition Domestic Alien Gazelli Art HouseBaku

El Anatsui Represented By

Axel Vervoordt Gallery contemporary art gallery in Hong Kong Axel Vervoordt Gallery Antwerp, Hong Kong
Goodman Gallery contemporary art gallery in Johannesburg, South Africa Goodman Gallery Johannesburg, Cape Town, London

El Anatsui In Ocula Magazine

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Taipei Connections: Eleven Works to Collect Ocula Insight Taipei Connections: Eleven Works to Collect By Sam Gaskin, Taipei

Ai Weiwei, Odyssey (2016) at Chambers Fine Art Resembling paintings on a Grecian urn, this wallpaper is an epic narrative about the plight of refugees, one of Ai Weiwei's chief concerns in recent years. Ai himself fled China for Europe after years of violence and intimidation. Dóra Maurer, Overlappings 34 (2006). Acrylic on canvas...

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Singapore Lowdown: Shows to See Ocula Report Singapore Lowdown: Shows to See By Tessa Moldan, Singapore

Singapore Art Week returns from 11 to 19 January 2020 with a host of island-wide events, at the centre of which is the second edition of S.E.A. Focus (16–19 January 2020) at Gillman Barracks, showcasing the best of contemporary art in Southeast Asia.

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58th Venice Biennale: May You Live In Interesting Times Ocula Report 58th Venice Biennale: May You Live In Interesting Times By Mohammad Salemy, Venice

The 58th Venice Biennale, May You Live In Interesting Times (11 May–24 November 2019), certainly benefitted from low expectations, given the lacklustre curatorial of the previous edition, when different segments of the show were conceptually framed with titles like 'Pavilion of Joys and Fears' and 'Pavilion of Colours'. Add to this the...

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El Anatsui In Related Press

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Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Announces 7 Site-Specific Installations Related Press Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Announces 7 Site-Specific Installations 5 December 2019, The New York Times

The artists are El Anatsui, Byung Hoon Choi, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Olafur Eliasson, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Cristina Iglesias and Ai Weiwei, and they were commissioned to create a mix of sculptures, light installations and suspended artworks for the 14-acre premises, known as the Susan and Fayez S. Sarofim Campus.

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The Art Newspaper's pick of the 2019 Venice Biennale Related Press The Art Newspaper's pick of the 2019 Venice Biennale 30 April 2019, The Art Newspaper

There are hundreds of exhibitions in Venice during the Biennale. Alongside the main exhibition in the Giardini and Arsenale, there are 90 national presentations, many in nearby pavilions in the Giardini and in spaces around the Arsenale, but also dotted throughout Venice. Then there are the official collateral exhibitions in museums and galleries...

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What's driving the growing interest in African art? Related Press What's driving the growing interest in African art? 13 April 2017, The Art Newspaper

The Parisian art world will resound to a decidedly African beat when Bernard Arnault's Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, hosts a three-part exhibition devoted to African art: Art/Afrique, le nouvel atelier (26 April-28 August), It will include a show of contemporary South African art from the foundation's collection and a selection of works from the...

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The best of Amsterdam Art Weekend Related Press The best of Amsterdam Art Weekend 5 December 2016, The Art Newspaper

An intricately-detailed ten-part vision of environmental disaster by the New York-based artist Dustin Yellin is on display for the first time at Grimm gallery in Amsterdam (until 7 January). The 20-ft work shows a tidal wave unleashed by melting ice caps sweeping away people, animals, art and buildings. The apocalyptic landscape consists of...

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El Anatsui In Video & Audio

El Anatsui: ‘The golden rule is, there are no rules’ Related Video & Audio El Anatsui: ‘The golden rule is, there are no rules’ 7 June 2019, Art Basel

El Anatsui has carved a name for himself with his monumental hanging sculptures made with recycled metal scraps. As imposing and spectacular as they are fragile and portable, these works have been exhibited in some of the world's most prestigious institutions, most recently at Munich's Haus der Kunst and in the Venice Biennale's first Ghana...

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El Anatsui: Language & Symbols Related Video & Audio El Anatsui: Language & Symbols 1 April 2016, ART21

In this video, Ghana's best-known contemporary artist, El Anatsui, speaks about the role that language and symbols play in his work. He describes how the abstract nature of West African "adinkra" symbols and the flexibility of meaning in the words of his native language of Ewe resonate with the concept of non-fixity and indeterminateness...

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