“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.”
A provocative statement by El Anantsui, a Ghanaian artist, who’s solo show, Gravity & Grace, is being exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum until August 4. El has the distinction of being an artist who’s being recognized as globally prominent despite living for the past 35+ years (since 1975) in the university town of Nsukka in eastern Nigeria. A frequent walker in and around Nsukka, we are the beneficiaries of this roaming mind.
He works in a variety of mediums including wood, metal, and wire, but what’s even more striking is that he’s actively engaged in the process of cultural renewal. After he found a bag of bottle caps from liquor bottles that someone was throwing away – the bottles are re-cycled and re-used for other purposes- he began to re-purpose these caps. By flattening them, making various shapes with them, and attaching them with bits of wire, he transforms these discarded pieces of metal into stunning pieces of art. Some look like colorful garments; others are intended to be a type of wall. In creating these art pieces from the yellows, reds, and greens of various caps from bottles that hold liquor, he’s also making a connection between the trade of Africans as slaves and the sale of liquor. All of El’s work is layered in this way: there’s more to it than what one first sees, and invariably the viewer is drawn in closer, to try to make sense of the words on the caps. El treats his work with such freedom too that each time a piece is hung, it’s hung differently. The shape and therefore the interpretation of the piece are both fluid.
Photos don’t do justice to his magnificent creations but to get at least a small sense of El’s artwork, click here http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/el_anatsui/# . Better yet, if you live in New York, or will be visiting here this summer, make a point of viewing the show at the Brooklyn Museum. You won’t be disappointed by the genuis of this humble nomad.