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Tribute to El Anatsui at the Brooklyn Museum

By Adèle Bossard


Entrance room on the fifth floor of the Brooklyn Museum. "Gli" (Wall) by El Anatsui, 2012. Photo by Adele Bossard.

In the fifth floor of the Brooklyn Museum are hanging some gigantic colorful fabrics made of garbage. This is the trademark of the African artist El Anatsui, that firstly caught my attention at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it is part of the permanent collection.

The new exhibition “Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui,” on view at the Brooklyn Museum through August 4, 2013, is his first solo exhibition in New York. Born in 1944 in Anyako, Ghana, El Anatsui has lived and worked in Nigeria since 1978. His work is included in the permanent collections of several major museums, such as the MoMA or the British Museum. This exhibition offers a retrospective of more than 30 of those works from the African artist.

"Gli" (Wall) by El Anatsui, 2012. Detail. Photo by Adele Bossard.

All of El Anatsui's works is tailored to the space it occupies and takes on new shape with each installation. The positioning of the different works is made by the curator, without any advice of the artist. “I don't believe in artworks being things that are fixed. The artist is not a dictator” he said.

"Ink Splash" by El Anatsui, 2010. Photo by Adele Bossard.

In this case, the huge entrance room looks like a labyrinth between metallic fabrics hanging from the ceiling, notably with “Gli” (Wall), a masterpiece made of aluminum and copper wire that has the shape of a wall or a curtain. Inspired by cities like Berlin (Germany), Jerusalem (Israel) or Notsé (Togo) that are divided by a wall, “Gli” invites you to take a look through the wall and to go over it. Another part of the exhibition is devoted to El Anatsui's sculptures made of interchangeable wooden pieces, emphasizing the intricacy of each work.

El Anatsui's work is deeply marked by the idea of transformation, of conversion. His large scale works in metal are the result of meticulous work on found materials as can cups or tops that are twisted, pierced and finally given a new birth, after the assembly of all the small pieces.

"Peak" (2010, foreground) and "Earth's Skin" (2007, background) by El Anatsui. Photo by Adele Bossard.

This transformation of an unusual artistic material allows a geographical connection. It creates a new medium that bridges the gap between the two continents: the metallic materials that abound in West Africa enter the restricted circle of occidental modern art.

The idea of a “nomadic aesthetic” is also attributed to his work. El Anatsui's itinerary in life is indeed that of a nomad, as he has left his native Ghana for Nigeria at the age of 24. The aesthetic comes itself from a combination of traditions from both his birth country, Ghana, and his home in Nsukka, Nigeria, highlighting the blurring of geographic identities.

If you go:
“Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui”
February 8 through August 4, 2013
Brooklyn Museum,
200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn
Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday: 11 AM to 6 PM
Thursday: 11 AM to 10 PM
First Saturday of each month: 11 AM to 11 PM
General admission: $12, Students and Seniors: $8

Adèle Bossard is a free lance writer from Saumur, France.

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