Gravity and Grace

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"If you leave your country, you develop a kind of nomadic mentality.
If I had lived in Ghana, my mind wouldn't have roamed.
I wouldn't have expanded my experiences,
or I would have been too comfortable."
- El Anatsui


It's not difficult to connect with El Atansui's art. Monumental in scale, dazzling in sight, and dense in subtance, his pieces are striking at first glance and utterly absorbing the closer you get. From afar, the glimmering, undulating forms have the appearance of extravagance; they fall and drape as the rich fabric of a medieval aristocratic woman's skirt might, displaying a sheen that might come from being threaded with gold and silver. Seen up close, however, you're startled to realize that each piece is, in fact, an intricate mosaic constructed out of the most humble of materials: salvaged bottle caps and labels from liquor bottles manufactured in Nigerian distilleries.

Delve into Anatsui's creative process and his art becomes even more enthralling. A Nigeria transplant born and raised in Ghana, Anatsui injects commentary on African history and culture into his work. His choice of materials is, on one hand, practical: the bottle caps are malleable and come in a wide variety of colors and textures, providing him seemingly infinite possibilities for his work. But it is also a cultural reference: to alcohol's ties to Africa's colonizers, who brought drink to the region and whose slave trade was fueled by the production of rum. The linking of each bottle cap to another also holds poetic significance: by interconnecting bottle caps that have been touched by different individuals, various personal histories are linked, as well.


Anatsui identifies as a nomad and reflects this identity in his art. His pieces do not have a specific orientation and is tailored to each space it occupies. He encourages those installing his piece to fashion his art in their way, so that each interaction leaves a mark on the piece. 
I loved this exhibit on many levels. Viscerally, there is just something about these pieces that delights, uplifts and inspires. Without over-thinking it, being around Anatsui's art simply made me happy. Intellectually, I appreciated his references to the effects of colonialism on a culture, coming from a country whose identity has been and continues to be shaped by its colonizers. And on a more personal level, I feel an affinity to Anatsui and how he identifies as a nomad. We belong to that third culture of those who choose to live in a society different from the one they were born into. I could identify with how the decision to live that kind of life inevitably changes you, making you malleable and expanding your horizons. It can be difficult and unsettling, but it's a way of life that allows some truly unexpected and breathtaking things to emerge.
is on display at the Brooklyn Museum until August 4, 2013.

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5 comments

  1. Wow. Thank you for that post. What a privillage to have such things on your doorstep. It looks like such a beautiful exhibition. I'm glad you could take photos. I've just come across your blog and it's instantly become a favourite :)

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    1. Thanks dear! You're absolutely right; it is a real privilege to have access to great art, and I have to make an effort to fully take advantage of it. Yes, I was really glad that photographs were allowed at this one; El Anatsui's art just needs to be shared with the world!

      Thank you so much for the kind words and I do hope you'll keep coming back to the blog!

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