BIOGRAPHY | BIBLIOGRAPHY | EXHIBITIONS
El Anatsui (born 1944) is a Ghanaian sculptor active for much of his career in Nigeria. He has drawn particular international attention for his iconic “bottle-top installations”, distinctive large-scale assemblages of thousands of pieces of aluminium sourced from alcohol recycling stations and sewn together with copper wire, transformed into metallic cloth-like wall sculptures in a way that can “draw connections between consumption, waste, and the environment”.
Many of Anatsui’s sculptures are mutable in form, conceived to be so free and flexible that they can be shaped in any way and altered in appearance for each installation. Working with wood, clay, metal, and—most recently—the discarded metal caps of liquor bottles, Anatsui breaks with sculpture’s traditional adherence to forms of fixed shape while visually referencing the history of abstraction in African and European art. The colorful and densely patterned fields of the works assembled from discarded liquor-bottle caps also trace a broader story of colonial and postcolonial economic and cultural exchange in Africa, told in the history of cast-off materials. The sculptures in wood and ceramics introduce ideas about the function of objects (their destruction, transformation, and regeneration) in everyday life, and the role of language in deciphering visual symbols. Anatsui’s preferred media are clay and wood, which he uses to create objects based on traditional Ghanaian beliefs and other subjects. He has cut wood with chainsaws and blackened it with acetylene torches; more recently, he has turned to installation art. Some of his works resemble woven cloths such as kente cloth but were not intended as textiles, but as sculptures. Anatsui incorporates “Adinsubli” for his works, an acronym made up of uli, nsibidi, and Adinkra symbols, alongside Ghanaian motifs.