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El Anatsui: Pot of Wisdom

By ROBERTA SMITHJAN. 10, 2013


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Jack Shainman Gallery

513 West 20th Street,

Chelsea

Through Jan. 19

Making art with an eccentric material has its benefits and liabilities.
It can indicate that an artist is thinking outside the box, but it can
also become restrictive, a box in itself. That problem seems some
way off for El Anatsui. For the past dozen years Mr. Anatsui, who
lives and works in Nigeria, has made an international name for
himself by fashioning shimmering tapestries from the discarded foil
and wire of liquor-bottle tops and wrappers. His third solo show
at Jack Shainman is his best yet. It confirms that while sticking with
his signature material, Mr. Anatsui is departing more frequently
from the grid structure that used to dominate or underlie most of
his pieces. This has enabled him to expand his compositional
vocabulary and his spatial effects considerably, and he has
underscored these changes with a broader palette of colors.

The resulting works are often smaller less dependent on


expansive scale and overwhelming resplendence to make an
impression as well as more diverse. In addition most are much
more complicated pictorially and therefore function more like
images, or paintings, than in his previous work. Sometimes there
are suggestions of topographical maps, as in Basin, where
scattered blues seem to drain out of a field of golds and reds
toward a blue, riverlike line.

The wonderfully dissonant Visionary has so many different


patterns and colors that it resembles a crazy quilt. Seed, a
radiantly yellow work, includes contrasting elements in red and
black that suggest both gestation and of roots. Ink Stain, a splash
of blue on gold, is perhaps a bit too literal, but still lovely. At nearly
every turn the sense of Mr. Anatsui opening up his art is
unmistakable and thrilling.
A version of this review appears in print on January 11, 2013, on page C37 of
the New York edition with the headline: El Anatsui: Pot of Wisdom. Order
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El Anatsui: The unstoppable master in


our midst

NEW AFRICAN MAGAZINE http://newafricanmagazine.com/el-anatsui-unstoppable-


master-midst/

6 MARCH 2015

0 COMMENTS

The worlds highest-earning African artist, El Anatsui, returns to London for a


solo show shortly (12 February-28 March) at the coveted October
Gallery. Juliet Highet explains why the world cannot get enough of the
inimitable Ghanaian maestro.

In the catalogue for El Anatsuis


participation at the 2013 Royal
Academys summer exhibition,
where the entire faade was covered
with one of his giant, shimmering
metal curtains, Gerard Houghton
wrote: There is a master in our
midst. The breathtaking work,
TSIATSIA searching for connection, was so extensive that it obliterated even
the logo of that historic London landmark. Some described the effect as wall
sculptures, metal sheets, or as Houghton says: curtains of light seen from
afar these gleaming fabrics looked like sumptuous cloths of gold: rich, opulent
creations of sparkling splendour.

But as one moved closer, the eye was attracted by the smaller-scale patterns,
and the variety of techniques by which the elements were arranged and
stitched together. Finally right in front of peoples noses, the secret was
revealed they had been enthralled by pre-fabricated bottle-tops, the
glittering colours no more than specious brand names from the trade: Liquor
Headmaster and Perfect Dry Gin.

This use of bottle-tops and their branding by El (a name he gave himself,


which has no connection with his Ghanaian Ewe heritage), relates to the slave
trade that imported alcohol to Africa. His early work was specifically themed
around indigenous African culture, his concern about the erosion of its
traditions by external forces, with alien values such as consumption or
indeed over-consumption.

As he has commented, many African countries do not recycle manufactured


objects like tin cans, discarded printing plates, cassava graters, and of course
bottle-tops, all of which he has used in the creation of new works of art.
Describing how his complex process of recycling the cast-off objects of urban
life evolved, he says: I return them to use by giving them a different function
a higher function maybe even the ultimate function. Each bottle-top
returning as an object of contemplation has the capacity to reveal to us a more
profound understanding of life than it ever did as a stopper (on a bottle).

Over time, his highly committed message about Africa has expanded to a
concern for all humanity, and led to an increasing international audience for
his work, while still drawing inspiration and materials from Africa, where he
continues to exhibit, as he always has done.

With the increase in global recognition, he has in a sense become a


cosmopolitan artist, though he says: When I come to the West, I encounter
works of art which not only excite me, but also enable me to understand better
things in my own environment when I go back.

In 2007, El stunned the international art world with his immense metal sheet
Fresh & Fading Memories, covering the faade of the historic Palazzo Fortuny
in Venice for the highly prestigious Venice Biennale, where he also showed
two evanescent wall hangings inside the Biennale art fair venue, dazzling all
beholders in a darkly lit space.

Since then, ever larger works have moved from inner to outer spaces,
transforming buildings in installations assembled from thousands of small
metal pieces, like glimmering tesserae mosaics reflecting their environments.
El also covered the Renaissance-style frontage of the French Museum of
Fashion with Broken Bridge 1. This colossal installation was reconfigured in
2012 to hang in west Manhattan, its mirror-like surface now reflecting
brownstone buildings and skyscrapers.

Something different
So where did it all begin? Born and brought up in Ghana, even before he could
read, El was fascinated by the graphic forms of literature, and also, while
attending college he was drawn to the abstract graphic designs stamped on
adinkra fabric. When I saw adinkra symbols, signs with names and meanings,
I thought that without presenting a human figure one could convey meaning.
His father was a master weaver of kente cloth, an Asante tradition, though he
was not drawn to creating this art form. And after his mother died, he did not
grow up with his father, but with his uncle, an ardent Christian.

Els curiosity about African cultures moved him beyond Ewe and other aspects
of Ghanaian heritage, extending through research in books and museums into
a wider spectrum of African history and culture.

Fed up with studying in Kumasi during the late 1960s, where an English art
school curriculum was taught, he declared: There has to be something
different, and in 1975 he moved to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where
there was a supportive intellectual and artistic community, and where
eventually, he became Head of Sculpture. He had landed in a radical
department, where a movement called Natural Synthesis was underway, re-
interpreting indigenous cultural traditions through modern techniques and
equipment, though El rejected the use of imported artists materials.

His first solo exhibition was in 1976 in Nsukka with art carved in wood. I
started from Africa in Ghana (where) I was fairly known, (then) I started
exhibiting in Nsukka, then Enugu, from there (going) to Lagos, then to
London, New York and other places. As Susan Vogel, author of El Anatsui:
Art & Life puts it: Prominence in Africa is the essential beginning of Anatsuis
journey to international visibility from his base in Nsukka Anatsui is the first
and only black African artist to achieve global recognition while living and
working continuously in Africa.

In 1975, after he had settled in Nsukka, El started working with ceramics,


creating a seminal series called Broken Pots. A pot is a very versatile thing
something which stands for life itself, he said then and referring to his
current creation of metal curtains, he added: I think I use broken pieces
because of my eclectic life history Its not one homogenous progression, its
been in bits and pieces not growing up in my own nuclear family, and not
even living in my own country, and finally, now, travelling all over the place. I
think its an attempt to put all this together.

Ancestral spirits
During the 80s and 90s El created wall panels and standing figure sculptures. These
were made of tropical hardwood, reconfiguring found objects like old house posts and
used mortars with charged history, transforming them into ancestral spirits and other
traditional archetypes. Some pieces were scorched, so that they look charred, which El
has likened to the injuries inflicted on Africans. In 1980, in the USA, he began using
power tools, particularly the chainsaw, which he describes as having a language of
violence, of tearing, of dividing.

From the late 90s onwards metal began to overtake wood as his significant medium.
The metal phase started with the cassava graters, followed by the milk tins, and now
the bottle- tops, said El.

Susan Vogel indicates that his Waste Paper Bags installation alludes to migration,
displacement and nomadism a central theme of Anatsuis life and art. Indeed, with all
the travelling he does nowadays, he calls himself a cultural nomad.

The early metal works were attached with copper wire, joining them into sheets and
giving them a non-fixed form, a malleability essential to the metal curtains to come, and
a characteristic unique to Els work.

He says: In effect the process was subverting the stereotype of metal as a stiff, rigid
medium and rather showing it as a soft, pliable, almost sensuous material capable of
attaining immense dimensions and being adapted to specific spaces. The breakthrough
that was to lead to international stature came with Els discovery of a bag full of tin lids,
which along with the next chance find of another bag, this time full of bottle-tops, both
of which are widely available in Nigeria, provided the multiples essential for the metal
curtains he began to create. It was 1998 when El came across this curious bag in the
bushes (of bottle-tops) I thought of the objects links to my continent and the rest of
Europe (whose traders originally brought them to Africa). The idea eventually came to
me that by stitching them together, I could get them to articulate some statement I
discovered that the result resembled a real fabric The colours replicated those for
traditional kente cloths.

The new medium was capable of a vast variety of patterns, and a delicacy of detail, a
marriage between painting and sculpture. They could be of unprecedented size, variable
in their hanging, which could alter their meaning, and easily moveable across
continents.

The amazing thing about working with these metallic fabrics is that the poverty of the
materials used in no way precludes the telling of rich and wonderful stories, he says.

Gallery curators, collectors, and critics have always wondered how an artist of his age
(now 70 years old), living in an obscure Nigerian town, has been responsible for
challenging classifications of painting, sculpture and abstraction. Many have now
accepted the innovative concept that African artists dont have to create art that looks
African.

In 1995 the October Gallery mounted his first solo show in the UK, and that same year
he exhibited in Tokyo and New York. Since then he has become one of the most
influential, challenging contemporary artists on the world stage and the highest earner
of all African artists.

His work has been bought for prestigious public venues, such as the British Museum
and the Metropolitan Museum, New York. (My) audience is made up of people from all
over the world and whoever understands it is a kindred spirit.

A quiet, modest man, Els empathy and humanity are clearly evident in his installation
Their Fateful Journey Nowhere in which figures are bent with work, exhaustion and age.
He says: I want to get to a level where [my work] really moves [people]. What I mean
by moving people is not moving them to tears well! If tears, why not? Clearly, we
have a master in our midst.

El Anatsui: Art & Life by Susan Mullin Vogel is published by Prestel (ISBN: 978-3-
7913-4650-2).
El Anatsui interview: Out of West Africa (2006)
R.J.Preece
artdesigncaf - art https://www.artdesigncafe.com/el-anatsui-interview-2006

| 15 September 2009
This interview was previously published in Sculpture magazine, 25(6), July/August 2006, pp. 34-9; and also in G.
Harper & T. Moyers Conversations on Sculpture (2007), pp. 312-17. (International Sculpture Center Press: Hamilton,
NJ, USA; distributed by University of Washington Press).

Read more: El Anatsui; October Gallery, London; R.J. Preece; Robert Storr, curator
El Anatsui art: Earth cloth, (2003). Aluminum bottle tops and copper wire, 487.7 x 457.2 cm.

A cloth made by sewing thousands of recycled, crushed, and flattened liquor bottle tops. A
10-foot-tall installation of redundant newspaper printing plates used for obituary pages and
re-used as sculptural material to comment on temporary and disposable human lives.
And rough, chain-sawed wood forming a line, an abstracted Visa queue, depicting hopes,
dreams, desperation, and global inequality. These are just three works spanning five
decades of artistic production by El Anatsui, who is widely regarded as one of the foremost
African artists of his generation. His work refers to the history of the African continent,
drawing on traditional African idioms as well as Western art practices.

Born and raised in Ghana, West Africa, El Anatsui studied sculpture at the College of Art,
University of Science and Technology, in Kumasi, central Ghana. Since 1996, he has been
a professor of sculpture at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka in the southeastern part of
the country. He originally joined the universitys Fine and Applied Arts Department as a
lecturer back in 1975.

Over the years, El Anatsui has exhibited extensively around the globe. His work has been
shown at the Liverpool Biennial of Contemporary Art (2002); the National Museum of African
Art, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC (2001); the Centro de Cultura
Contemporania Barcelona (2001); the 8th Osaka Sculpture Triennale (1995); and the
Venice Biennale (1990). Most recently he participated in Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of
a Continent, which featured more than 70 artists from Algeria to Zimbabwe, as well as
African artists living in Europe and North America. This exhibition was on view at the
Hayward Gallery during El Anatsuis concurrent solo exhibition at the October Gallery, also
in London.

R.J. Preece: When I was in Barcelona reviewing the Africas exhibition (2001), I was
particularly captured by your piece Visa queue. For me, its one of those artworks that stays
in your lifeit provided an emotive, artistic representation of West African emigration to
Europe, as resonant as the documentaries we see of people walking across the Sahara
and risking their lives to cross the Strait from Morocco to Spain and into the EU. You
created a lyrical line of massed figures, a nondescript mass. Why did you choose such a
small scale for this work? Why did you want the viewer to be so uncomfortably monumental
in comparison?

El Anatsui: Scale here takes on an inflective dimensiona dimension of significance. A


friend related to me what his father-in-law told him when he went to inform him that he was
migrating to a greener pasture: The lazy man says his own home is not good enough.
Migration, especially for economic reasons, produces these desperate situations in which
people are ready to be subjected to all forms of dehumanization. Situations that not only
process them into a roughly hewn homogenous mass, but also miniaturize their stature. The
figures, in assorted natural wood colors, are faceless, more like statistical data bound
together by a dark gloomy fate. I have experienced real visa queues in the 80s and 90s in
Lagos, Nigeria, which were awfully long, where people were goaded along with paddocks
and along barricaded paths. But Visa queue is about any situation in which people are
constrained by circumstances to compete in long queuesand this happens everywhere in
the world. Everybody is reduced to the same height and scale, and at times identification by
assigned numbers suggests the idea of statistics. [1]

R.J. Preece: Sometimes artists from non-Western lands feel that viewers can gain
significant insight into their works by learning more about their locational/situational context.
Sometimes they feel that this is helpful, but it has its limits. And sometimes, it goes
overboard and ends up isolating the artist, because the art has been packaged as
specialist art. Where do you position your work in relation to the context is necessary
continuum?

El Anatsui: People at times see my works without any knowledge of their context or even
their titles, and they create their own meanings out of them. Some interpretations reveal
how close we are as humans. I would agree that context is both an aid and a hindrance. In
certain ways, it helps anchor a message, and depending on the viewers capacity and
experience, he could go from there and expand or simply stop. I dont think that I define
myself strictly in a locational context. People, galleries, and museums make these
definitions for their various reasonssome of them necessary, others not.
R.J. Preece: You studied in a Ghanaian university program that was affiliated with
Goldsmiths College, University of London. Would your approach, at least during that time,
be considered some sort of fusion of Bauhaus-oriented influence and local/regional input?
And if so, what range of input would this be?

El Anatsui: I went to the College of Arts of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and
Technology at Kumasi, Ghana. In those days, the staff consisted of several British, German,
and American teachers and a handful of Ghanaians. Certainly, foundation courses dealt
with elements and principles of art and design, but like most art schools in West Africa at
that time, there was not much local content. There was excellent teaching, but the content
was simply what the times and circumstances offered. Most of us, after school and further
exposure, now combine these experiences with local practices and other approaches. I
dont know what to call it or how to characterize it now. But the concern for principles and
elements of design is probably discernible in my works. Take Earth Cloth, for instance.

R.J. Preece: What were your influences?

El Anatsui: A pretty wide range of things, from media to processes, history, and other
artists works. I can only pick a few here. Initially, a particular cloth, the Adinkra served as a
source, on account of the signs and symbols used on it. These attempted to give visual
form to very abstract concepts like the soul, anger, and seriousness. I employed the
process of fire engraving or pyrography to work these signs into wood. I have returned to
the cloth motif after many years with Adinkra Sasa (Adinkra Patchwork), which references
the color schemes (and not the signs) of this funeral cloth.

One of the artists whose work influenced me early on was Akwete Kofi, who made
massive ponderous wood forms. As I became exposed to the rest of the world, several
other artists works have been references and inspirations: Anish Kapoors engagement
with the void or darkness; Antony Gormleys work especially the energy generated by
many hands touching clay to realize his Field series; and Endo Toshikatsus use of fire
on massive wood sections in his earlier works. While influences continue to grow and
expand, I am still interested in what goes on around me.

R.J. Preece: How did you go about developing the Wastepaper Bag works?

El Anatsui: I anneal, or heat-treat, printing plates, so they are soft enough to crumple with
my bare hands. These are stitched together into large sheets, which are then configured
into bags of assorted sizes and shapes.

I approach printers to collect plates they want to throw away. Ninety percent turn out to be
obituary notices or funeral announcements. Even when I collected newspaper plates, there
were many obituary pages in addition to news, which has a shorter and shorter life span
these days. The information on them provides a demographic profile of the location. Very
ephemeral lives averaging 4555 years, like paper, so easily crumpled and disposed of too
soon. But like so much printed material, which survives these plates, the lives they refer to
are equally survived by many people.

R.J. Preece: And what about Ancient Wall?

El Anatsui: The Wall series, with the rusty perforated metal sheets, came from thoughts
about mans primary impulses and actions. These sheets were graters used in processing
cassava into one of the major staples in West Africa gari. When I came across huge piles
of them in the wilderness, my initial thoughts were about consumption, about the huge
quantities of gari that have come out of them. Later, thoughts about food as one of the
motivations for mans primordial impulse to carve and control territory led to the idea of a
series of walls.

Ancient Wall perhaps references not only how old this impulse is, but also how timeless.
The perforations lend a significant perspective. I believe that walls do two things: they block
views and hide things on one hand; and on the other, they provoke or activate the
imagination and reveal things. Take the walls of China or of Berlin. Their physical presence
aroused considerable curiosity in people living on both sides. Thus, walls are opaque to the
eyes but transparent to the imagination. The perforations in my walls have the quality of
indicating any movements behind them, while not being clear about what these movements
are precisely. They hide as well as reveal.

R.J. Preece: Looking back, are there key events in the development of your artistic and
professional practice?

El Anatsui: Let me see. My decision to go to art school, my relocation to Nigeria (in 1975),
and several other events: an International Sculpture Conference in Toronto (1979) and a
residency in the U.S. a year after that. I consider my decision to take up art a crucial and
probably reckless one at the time that it happened. I finished high school in a provincial
location and had almost no exposure to the world beyond. No idea about art as a career,
profession, or practice as I know it now. There was glamour and the lure of established and
prestigious professionsthose with visible role models at that time, especially those with
tertiary education. I only felt that I was going for something I would enjoy doing.

When I took the post at the University of Nigeria in 1975, my decision was based on a
mixture of adventure and a quest to widen my artistic horizon. The few publications then on
African art were replete with references to the Nigerian art scene. Certainly, physically
seeing Nok terra-cotta works and the homes of ancient Benin and Ife, and meeting in
person most of the key contemporary players on this scene, has been immensely
worthwhile. Meeting so many sculptors in one place for the first time at the Toronto
conference, I felt that there was quite a lot to experience and to do. At the Cummington
Community of Arts in Massachusetts, I started with the idea of exploring the chain saw,
which [Ive worked with] for over two decades now.

R.J. Preece: Youve worked with found ceramic material, found metals, various kinds of
tropical and other woods, and scorched railway sleeper ties during a recent installation in
the U.K. Are there particular materials that you like to work with?

El Anatsui: Wood and clay have been my traditional media and I still work with them,
though more and more unorthodox materials attract me. They contain peculiar and different
challenges, which I think open me up more. Take Peak Project for example. Milk tin tops
gestated in my studio and mind for some time. For about two years, I searched for what to
do with them, until the popular brand name of milk Peak suggested the idea.
Subsequently, I belted these disks together into large sheets, which are picked up at a
point, raised, and allowed to drop several times until they firm up into peaksprobably
peaks of consumption.

I am drawn more to materials that have been subjected to considerable human use:
mortars, trays, graters, tins and, of late, liquor bottle tops. Apart from what their provenance
has loaded them with, I subject them to the numerous touches of the many assistants who
work with me. I believe that what I explore now is not only material, but also process and
logistics, elements that anybody dealing with huge quantities of material and difficult means
has to grapple with.

R.J. Preece: What have you learned from using a chain saw in making some of your
works?

I was first taken in by the lineits making and clawing propensity and I tried to configure
C-scrolls and other organic lines but found that these were not in the chain saws character.
It lends itself to making straight lines, straight cuts, and can deliver many of these, fast.
Also, its marks have a loud hustling quality or feel. In Visa queue, I attempted to use this
quality for significance, but I think that Erosion (1992) is perhaps more effective in showing
this. Made in connection with the Rio Earth Summit, Erosion tried to put the fast summary
lines of the chain saw next to slower hand engravings, contrasting mans mechanized,
revolutionary technology with his slower organic, evolutionary culture.

R.J. Preece: What issues are you currently facing in your artistic and professional practice?

El Anatsui: On the front burner now, I am thinking about relocating and debating whether I
should keep a studio in Nigeria and one in Ghana or operate in one location only. These are
crucial questions, because the decision will affect what kind of work I create in the future:
The rural setting at Nsukka and the urban setting at Tema (Ghana) both generate their
peculiar inspirations, materials, and opportunities.

R.J. Preece: Future plans? Or future dreams?

El Anatsui: I have, for some time now, been dreaming of an art community with more
interaction among people. People from different backgrounds, professions, and
persuasions. There is no way that this synergy could not result in better understanding, not
only of art, but also of the other disciplines. Something similar to this was enacted at the last
Gwangju Biennale where we, the artists, were paired with viewer-participants. There were
very innovative results in some of the pairings. I am thinking here of something more long-
lasting, more intimate but informal. The emphasis is on the various disciplines, and not
working in exclusion.

Click to see an interview of El Anatsui in 2014.

References:
[1] Click to see an extensive quotation of the Q&A featured by artistic director Robert Storr
in the Venice Biennial 2007 catalogue.

2005-17 artdesigncafe.com. All material contained within artdesigncafe.com is the copyright of its respective
owners. This article may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without their permission.
http://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia/audio/collections/022-
Interview with El Anatsui
interview-with-el-anatsui
Program Information

Curator Alisa LaGamma talks to artist El Anatsui about his work, including the sculpture Between Earth and Heaven,
which was recently installed in the African art galleries.

Transcript

Alisa LaGamma: Hello, this is Alisa LaGamma and I'm the curator of African art here at The Metropolitan Museum of
Art. I'm with El Anatsui, who's visiting us from Nigeria this week. It's the week that he has opened a major exhibition of
his work and it's the day that he's just installed a wonderful piece in the Museum's collection that we acquired in
2006.

The title of this work that you created in 2006 is Between Heaven and Earth. Can you explain a little bit how you
selected this particular title for the work that's on view here?

El Anatsui: The fact that is this, we live in many dimensions of the world: the physical onesolid earth and with bone
and skinand then the cyberworld, which is intangible. I think most of the time we are caught in between the two of
them, we are left in some abeyance. We are left between heaven, which I think the cyberworld, you know, the nearest
description of, and earth. And in kind of trying to get at this title, I looked at the elements that I used in the work and
saw that a proportion of elements which were open, you could see through them.

Alisa LaGamma: They were transparent.

El Anatsui: You know, they were more transparent than the lower onewhich is the lower section, which is dense,
you know. That's the physical and then the ethereal.

Alisa LaGamma: One of the things that strikes me when I look at your work and when I hear other people talk about
it is how astonished they are by the beauty of the work. Everyone that I've heard react to your sculpture of the last
few years says how aesthetically beautiful they find it. In the contemporary art world, it's very rare that an artist
creates things that have this dimension of beauty in them. How do you feel being an artist who is creating works that
have that effect? Is it unintentional?

El Anatsui: No, it's not unintentional. I think I always combine content and form in my work, and therefore you can't
run away from the works looking beautiful. But then they don't end at beauty only, you know, they have contents. And
the content can be gleaned by getting closer and seeing what the work is made of and trying to get some ideas out of
what those materials would mean. Andlike drink bottle tops, you know, liquid bottle tops, they could come with
some names which could be telltale or have some ring about them, and there have been times that we sat down to
list the number of titles, or names of drinks that whose tops we've used. And they are a lot more, ringing like a
sociological study, or a historical study, or a political study of our environment. So that when people, well, who are
careful, or more probing, get close, they can get all this beyond the beauty.
Alisa LaGamma: It seems to me that your work is very much in step with concerns that all of us are feeling for the
way that we're creating waste that is crowding our living environment, and that you're creating works that take that
waste and transform them into something not only thought-provoking but beautiful. Can you explain a little bit the
process whereby you look for interesting materials to work with as a sculptor?

El Anatsui: I think for a longwell, since I left art school, I've been an artist who has been given to searching my
environment, you know, for material to work with and I want it to be material that relates to the people, you know, to
people, not something that is distant from them. Let me give an example. If, for instance, I worked with bronze, it's
distant. People, they dont relate to it. But if I pick a Coca-Cola caneverybody knows what a Coca-Cola can is and
can relate to it.

As an artist, I think that I should work with processes and media that are immediately around me. And in Africa, just
like everywhere in the worldlike yester night, we went on a little walk and saw the huge quantities of waste that
people brought out and put on the street for the trucks to come and collect. And I thought, "We create . . . we create
waste." But I think there's more waste created in other parts than we do, you know. And as an artist, I thinkhave
always even advised to my students to work with materials that you don't have to spend anything towhere they
have the freedom to play around. You know, most of the times, art has a huge element of play, has a huge level of
play in it. And you can't play with something which is expensive.

Alisa LaGamma: Could you describe a little bit what some of the great forms of classical African art that have been
meaningful to you are, that have inspired you in your own work? I assume that you have looked a lot at textiles and
how important a place they have in sub-Saharan Africa.

El Anatsui: Yeah, not only textiles but sculptural forms. Yeah, I am basically a sculptor. And textile seems to be
coming in because of this format that I use now, which is the sheet format. And therefore the closest thing that people
associate them with is textile. But actually should be looked at more as sculpture. I do look at works of sculpture and
textile, and everything from all over the place. And they do, I am sure, influence me. You know, but most of the time
it's a very unconscious thing.

Alisa LaGamma: I read once that you said that as an art student in Ghana that you paid special attention to
observing traditional weavers and carvers and casters and that you had great respect for the processes that they
work with and were very engaged with responding to those traditions.

El Anatsui: Yeah. In school, I think that what we were exposed to was more likemy school was affiliated to an art
school in England. And faculty largely from outside of Africa, and a few African members of the faculty were there.
And the result was that, toward the end of our course, for instance, some of us began to think or to see that there was
something missing, you know. The local component wasn't much there in what we were exposed to. And that led me
toluckily, the National Cultural Center of Ghana is in the town where the university was, that's Kumasi. And I used
to go there to sit down and watch all these carvers and textile artists, drummers and all kinds of musicians, and that
was where I got influence from, of, or got an attraction for, to, the arts and crafts sides. Which were attractive to me
on account of the fact that they were handling very abstract concepts. And I thought that was very interesting, you
know. And these were very intriguing to me and therefore I spent some timemany years, about four or five years
trying to replicate the motions of artists who created these forms or signs. In order to have a feel of what it was like
theand I went, kind of trying to kind of indigenize or add a little bit of a local component to what I'd been exposed to
in school, in order to become a more rounded artist.

Alisa LaGamma: Now, very soon after you finished art school, you left Ghana and you went to work in Nigeria, and
you've been working there ever since. And I wonder if leaving the place where you studied and you grew up wasn't an
important part of being a very inventive artist, being able to break away from

El Anatsui: Yeah, I think it might be through that leaving one'swell, the environment that you grew up in, yeah,
could be a very good catalyst in the sense that when you are away from a place, you know, you have a more intense
feeling of it. And in the sense, also, that you are exposed to new stimuli, so you are combining what you left, which is
now intense, with new stimuli. And I think that wasthat's what has happened in my case.
Alisa LaGamma: Thank you very much, El, for joining us today. It was really quite an extraordinary morning and we
hope that people will take a lot of pleasure out of seeing your magnificent work on view in our galleries.

El Anatsui: Thank you.

Alisa LaGamma: This has been an Antenna Audio production.

http://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia/audio/collections/022-interview-with-el-
anatsui interview

https://www.artdesigncafe.com/IMG/pdf/El-Anatsui-Venice-Biennial-Robert-Storr-
Preece-2007.pdf Venice Biennale
https://www.artdesigncafe.com/el-anatsui-interview-2014

https://www.artdesigncafe.com/el-anatsui-interview-2006
http://blog.art21.org/2012/07/20/exclusive-el-anatsui-studio-process/#.WGv-IC82sj8
http://ncartmuseum.org/images/uploads/ElAnatsuiBibliography.pdf
https://books.google.ro/books?
id=RzqceogzrksC&pg=PA48&lpg=PA48&dq=el+anatsui+interview+in+a+magazine
&source=bl&ots=sBrJTdQSu3&sig=aXOIRGkck-gRbrPbqtPrHsufp-
U&hl=ro&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiyx7mJ26bRAhXMliwKHZvcB9QQ6AEIYDAM#v=onep
age&q=el%20anatsui%20interview%20in%20a%20magazine&f=false pdf