EL ANATSUI Gravity and Grace

Many artists are particular about how curators install their artwork. Ghanaian artist El Anatsui is not one of them. “Giving people freedom to reconfigure my works each time they are displayed allows them to take on a new shape,” he explained in a recent interview. “Life is not fixed. It is constantly in a state of change, and I want my art installations to replicate that experience.”

Anatsui’s art, which is influenced by the post-independence art movements of 1960s and ’70s West Africa, uses recycled materials and traditional Ghanaian and Nigerian weaving techniques to create fascinating sculptures of monumental size. Each piece is a titanic ecological and educational work. His bottle-top sculptures are mutable in form and connected by loose copper threads, embodying not only the fluidity of human life, but also symbolizing the connections between the people who touched each piece, their widely varied cultures, as well as the past and present. “I like the fact that the bottle tops have been touched by human hands at so many stages,” he said.

The wall hangings are as malleable as their meaning, for they also represent the history of Africa and its link with European and American traders, who exchanged alcohol for African goods during the era of transatlantic slave trade.

“Drink was used as currency to pay for the slaves who were brought to the West and the Americas,” Anatsui said. “The slaves were then used to produce sugar cane to create more alcohol, which was then exported back to Europe and traded with Africa. When I take a bottle cap and cut it, I feel as though I am working with the material that first connected the two and, eventually, three continents.”

Throughout his award-winning 40-year career as a sculptor and university professor, Anatsui has been involved in numerous international exhibitions that have addressed a vast range of social, political and historical concerns. His work is collected by museums and galleries worldwide.


Anatsui’s current solo exhibition, “Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works,” is on display in various galleries across the USA throughout 2013 and 2014. The exhibition is widely considered the apex of Anatsui’s career and features monumental wall and floor sculptures, as well as a series of drawings that illustrate his unusual work process. Wooden wall panels also reference his earlier work, offering compositional parallels to his current metal sculptures.

Current exhibition:
Des Moines Art Center - Des Moines, Iowa, USA
October 24, 2013 - February 9, 2014

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