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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Matthew Wade sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his new CD, “Diamond from Coal,” his fourth album with his band, My Silent Bravery.