Monday, April 1, 2013

Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui

by Drew Martin
I saw Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui yesterday at the Brooklyn Museum. It is definitely worth schlepping out to Brooklyn to see this beautiful body of work, in lieu of a visit to MoMA or the Met.

El Anatsui was born in Ghana in 1944 and now works out of Nigeria, where he employs a couple dozen young locals to pound, poke and loop thousands of liquor bottle caps and canned milk tops into metal tapestries. This is Anatsui’s first solo exhibition in a New York museum, and he pulls it off with ease.

Most people talk about Anatsui’s process as recycling but he does not like that term because he does not return the material back into the manufacturing cycle. He transforms discarded utilitarian objects into contemplative art objects. Anatsui speaks about his work as data, and leaves the decisions with the curators to be made at every level. He understands that viewers might approach his art as African textiles, but can also see in his rich, metal fabrics other influences and eras such as Klimt and the Vienna Secession.

Anatsui warns to not stop there. This work is not simply decorative. His use of the liquor tops is a commentary on the European slave trade, which exchanged drink for slave labor that was sent to the colonies to grow and harvest sugarcane in order to make the liquors. He is also quick to challenge the Western concept of ocular beauty, explaining that in Africa beauty is more a matter of character than surface.

Click here to read more about the show, Gravity and Grace.

Click here to watch an Art 21 documentary about El Anatsui.