El Anatsui turns trash into treasure

El Anatsui is a member of the prestigious Nsukka Group of artists in Nigeria.

In the Arts section of Friday’s New York Times, I read an excellent introduction to the art of El Anatsui. Born in Ghana but based in Nigeria, Anatsui is a reknowned sculptor both at home and abroad. He has traditionally worked with clay and wood materials, but has turned to installation art in recent years. He is most famous for creating beautiful, shimmering tapestries of bottle caps, delicately-sewn together with copper wire.

“Earth’s Skin” (2009), Jack Shainman Gallery. Photograph by Joe Levack, 2012.

Anatsui’s works have featured prominently in major collections around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The British Museum, and the Venice Biennale. The Brooklyn Museum in New York is currently exhibiting over thirty of Anatsui’s works until August 4, 2013 in a retrospective entitled Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui.

“Old Cloth Series” (1993), wood and paint.

Anatsui’s work exhibits a vivid energy and beauty, made all the more remarkable since he uses throwaway aluminum caps from liquor bottles as his material of choice. Endlessly versatile in their colors and configurations, the bottle caps become a mosaic of different colors and textures, once Anatsui pieces them together. He brings truth to the expression “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.

I believe that if you are working with materials that are not readily available and from your locality, you have problems, but if the materials are available and from your locality, then the art is speaking directly to you about you and your society. – El Anatsui

Detail of "Gli (Wall)", 2010

Detail of “Gli (Wall)”, 2010

For more information about El Anatsui, please visit the Jack Shainman Gallery site for the artist’s biography. Anatsui is a member of the prestigious Nsukka Group, a group of artists associated with the University of Nigeria where he began teaching in 1975. The best book of El Anatsui’s work is currently Susan Mullin Vogel’s El Anatsui: Art and Life, published in 2012 by Prestel Publishing.

Installation view of Broken Bridge, Paris. Photograph by Erik Lasalle, 2012.

If someone is in very low spirits and they come across my work, which is made from very low quality bottle caps which you might see thrown on the street, it should give them some hope that there is something to be alive for. – El Anatsui