News / Arts & Entertainment

African Artist's Monumental Works Featured in New York City

African Artist's Monumental Works Featured in New Yorki
X
July 19, 2013 6:22 PM
The work of Ghanaian-born artist El Anatsui, a global art star, is being featured in two exhibits in New York City. They embody the paradoxes of an art that combines painting and sculpture, visual splendor and humble, recycled materials. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver reports.
African Artist's Monumental Works Featured in New York
Carolyn Weaver
The works of Ghanaian-born sculptor El Anatsui are full of paradoxes: visually splendid, even glittering, they are made of humble, recycled materials like copper wire, aluminum bottle tops, weathered wood and rusted tin. In Fold Crumple Crush, a film about his work by African art expert Susan Mullin Vogel, the artist says he has always been drawn to materials that others have used and touched.

“Things that have been used before, things which link people together,” he tells Vogel, adding that anything anyone has touched retains a “charge.” “Anything used by humans has a history, so those properties help whatever I do to gain some meaning,” says Anatsui.
 
El Anatsui, who will be 70 next year, has lived and worked for most of his life in Nsukka, a Nigerian university town, even as his fame abroad has grown. His work hangs in museums in the West, and has been displayed at major international art shows, including the Venice Biennale in 1999 and again in 2007. In recent years, he has created enormous, flexible wall hangings from copper wire and discarded liquor bottle tops. Teams of assistants twist, fold and crush the colorful caps into various shapes, wiring them together at El Anatsui’s direction, to create works he calls a marriage between painting and sculpture.
 
They are hung differently each time they are shown; El Anatsui rejects the notion that his art must have a fixed meaning, or even fixed form. “My idea initially was that I was doing sculpture, sculpture that is so free, that you can change its form in any way,” he comments in Vogel’s film.
 
More than 30 of his works are now on display at New York's Brooklyn Museum, in “Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui.” Vogel, who also wrote a book on El Anatsui, says his art unfolds in meaning depending on the viewer’s position.
 
“When you first see these bottle top hangings, they look like sort of very rich, sumptuous, cloth of gold, brocade, they look fabulous,” she says, “and especially they look opulent. And as you get closer to them, you see they’re made out of junk.”
 
Vogel says the shift in visual perception mirrors the works’ multiple allusions, both to natural and abstract beauty and to African lives today and in the past. The bottle tops are from a distillery in Nigeria, a relic of the “triangular” trade when sugar cane from the Caribbean and the Americas fed European distilleries, and Africans were sold into slavery to work those distant sugar cane plantations.
 
“So, you have this early link with colonialism and slavery, and this sort of contrast between the opulence and the suggestion of luxury and ease that you see from a distance, and the suggestion of poverty, of labor, of waste, and of excess when you get up closer to them,” Vogel says.
 
Yet although his work is rooted in African materials and experience, El Anatsui disavows any simple literal message. “Gradually, my tendency would be to work in things which are abstract and pure. I don't know if I'm looking for something ethereal,” he muses in Fold Crumple Crush.
 
“I think his work has an immediate appeal and a deep complexity. The more you look and the longer you think about it, the more you see and the deeper [the] implications of an African working with this material,” Vogel says. Visitors to the show seemed to agree. One said she got goosebumps from the show; several referred to how “alive” the work seemed.

“People have been really ecstatic,” says Kevin Dumouchelle, curator of African Art at the museum. “I think on the one hand, it is work that is visually stunning and overwhelming, and there’s something about the scale of it that sort of exalts you immediately. He is a global abstract artist first and foremost who is making work that’s always been interested in Africa, and that sort of takes African art as an intellectual basis and plays with it.”
 
Another work by El Anatsui is on view in New York this summer. Broken Bridge II, the artist’s largest outdoor installation to date, hangs on the side of a building overlooking Manhattan’s Highline Park. Composed of jagged pieces of rusted tin and mirror-like metal, it seems to be a piece of an architectural ruin, one reflecting the New York sky and cityscape from another time and place.

Video assistance provided by Daniela Schrier

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”