Artworks often come with extensive installation instructions, detailing everything from lighting and sequencing to the height at which a painting is hung or the level at which an object meets the eye. Ghana-born El Anatsui, the internationally acclaimed weaver of cascading, sumptuous, abstract draperies and wall hangings composed of can lids and bottle tops, is an exception to the rule. Addressing ideas of personal and collective identity, El Anatsui’s voluminous textiles espouse a freedom of form; they can be hung, draped, folded, bunched, or rouched depending on the space and the curator’s discretion—their malleability answering the rigid and destructive forces of colonialism that surface as subtle references in the work.
Marking the opening of Axel Vervoordt Gallery’s new Hong Kong space, El Anatsui presents three specially commissioned new works whose twinkling webs of aluminum and copper wire bands from liquor bottles undulate in streaked, abstract patterns. Titled “Theory of Se”—“Se” meaning fate, fortune, and destiny—the three works are a refreshing and contemplative take on the spectacular. “Light, limber, and accommodating, his art takes advantage of an expanded art world without making you feel small,” wrote Karen Rosenberg about El Anatsui’s recent exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum.
El Anatsui sees his works as providing bridges between the past and future, conduits through which cultural history is transmitted, his source material referencing the trans-Atlantic slave trade (alcohol was one of the commodities Europeans brought to Africa for the exchange of goods). Occupying a realm between painting and sculpture, the commonplace and the precious, his captivating fabrics make a fitting display for the inauguration of a gallery in another postcolonial locale—Hong Kong—that intends to create a dialogue between East and West.
“Theory of Se” is on view at Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Hong Kong, May 13–August 12, 2014.