|El Anatsui, Red Block, 2010. Aluminum and copper wire. Two pieces, each|
measuring 200.75 x 131.5." Author photo.
|El Anatsui, Earth's Skin, 2009. Aluminum and copper wire. 177x 394." variable.|
Courtesy of the artists and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo by Joe Levack, courtesy of the Akron Art Museum.
While one can compare Anatsui's metallic draperies to any number of African, Eastern, an Western art forms and materials, they remain unique: astonishing in beauty and bountiful in metaphorical connections. The artist's statements for the the Museum focus on the poignant power of the caps as symbols: Liquor and slaves once were both commercial products exchanged on West African shores. This token of commercial ties between the Americas and Africa is likely to felt as a natural poetry to an African—as deep and simple as the blues—even if North Americans have to process the thought as history and to consult the footnotes for nuance.
What I find almost heart-stopping about the walls draped with monumental sheets of tiny, linked metal is neither the far that they are created from humble,post-consumer materials, nor that a sobering historical link between peoples and centuries is made in the process of typing together these symbols of dehumanized souls. Both of these points—central aspects of the work—come as afterthoughts to my direct, sensory experience of monumental, glimmering, luxe hanging artworks. Anatsui discusses these in relation to painting, but I find this comparison puzzling and remote.
Anatsui produces this work in flat sheets that are constructed gradually as small units are attached to one another to create ever-larger ones. The completed work is essentially a flexible, two-dimensional sheet with shape defined by its edges, but which has no internal rigidity, like fabric. Since Amemo is not even four-square, it can appear unique with each differently oriented installation, its colors concentrated in ways that create a new work from the same cloth each time.
|El Anatsui, Amemo,(Mask of Humankind), 2010. Aluminum and copper wire.|
208-5/8 x 161-3/8." Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Photo by Andrew MaAllister, courtesy of Akron Art Museum.
|Oni of Ife, Nigeria|
|Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain in|
|Bouba Abdoulay, Sultan of Rey-Bouba,|
|18th c. Hawaiian royal cloak|
|Ancient Japanese armor|
|Basic construction stitch of Gli|
|Construction using both positive and negative|
While the viewer's impulse is to marvel at all the caps used in the work, it's also important to notice how Anatsui uses space in the pieces too. Some of the work is as dense as armor and other—the Gli, or Wall, especially—is diaphanous, even though all is assembled from the same material.
|Shimmering, transparent Gli|
|El Anatsui, Gli installed. Author photo.|
|El Anatsui, Waste Paper Bags, 2004-2010. Aluminum printing|
plates, paint, and copper wire. Variable sizes up to 86" high,
between 36" and 54" at base. Author photo.
|Detail, Waste Paper Bags.|
Last year I reviewed a show of truly surpassing beauty, art of the ancient Ife culture in what is present day Nigeria. Nigeria is the home of some of the most awe-inspiring and spiritual art in the world, the products of brilliant civilizations known mostly to archaeology now. As in many former Western colonies (slave ports before that), cultural identity has to be an extremely embattled question not only in the collective, but in any individual artist's soul. To have such noble local heritage, yet in the present day to live in a country so wounded by its contact with the West—this is a situation we in the United States can try only with the greatest exertions of imagination and humanity to fathom.
|El Anatsui, Gravity and Grace, 2010. Aluminum and copper wire. 208-5/8 x 161-3/8." Courtesy of the artist and|
Jack Shainman Gallery. New York. Photo by Andrew McAllister, courtesy of Akron Art Museum.
|El Anatsui, installation at Akron Art Museum. Aluminum and copper wire.|