El Anatsui

The focus of your essay is the work of contemporary artist, El Anatsui, who was born in 1944 in Ghana, Africa, and lives and works between Ghana and Nigeria. In 1957, when El Anatsui was thirteen years old, Ghana, a British colony since the mid nineteenth-century was liberated. Euphoria spread throughout Ghana in the 1960s, and took expression in the desire to revive pre-colonial Ghanaian culture. This revival was important for Ghanaians. It became part of their process of discovering their individual and cultural identity. It is this historical period that greatly inspired Anatsui’s life and art.


Much of El Anatsui’s art references the history of colonization. He frequently repurposes bottle caps, aluminum pieces obtained from alcohol recycling areas to create moveable wall tapestries. He focuses, in part,  on issues of consumption, waste and the environment, which were meaningful to him growing up in Africa. His work is about a specific place but is also global in scope.


El Anatsui does not impose his ideas on the viewer, but invites the viewer to create their own interpretations. His individual works change from installation to installation since their structure is mutable, consisting of light metal fragments that can be rearranged. In fact, the reflective light transforms the work before your very eyes. In a sense they become formless forms. His shifting forms are a meditation on human perception and can be seen as a metaphor for human transformation on a number of levels. El Anatsui often lets the curator decide how the works will be installed.


Assignment: After viewing the following short films on El Anatsui (see links below) type a 400-500 word (double-spaced) essay and address the following issues in his art:

  1. El Anatsui repurposes found objects into various forms of art. Focus on two or three of his works in the video(s) to discuss the visual effects of this transformation and your interpretation/response to each work of art.
  2. How does his art relate to indigenous African Art and philosophical concepts of impermanence?
  3. How is the history of slave trade and colonization in Western Africa referenced in some of his work?
  4. Do you think that El Anatsui’s art relates to Fabrice Monteiro’s “Prophecy Series”? If so, In what ways? How does their work differ?

5. Do you find his work effective?

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