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

Multimedia US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Joe Taylor sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his distinction as New York’s “Subway Idol,” and how he beat out thousands for that title. Joe performs several songs from his new CD, “Anything’s Possible.”