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

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the latest edition of "Beyond Category" blues singer and guitarist Corey Harris performs with his band and talks about his travels in West Africa tracing the roots of the blues.