El 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.Read More
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.