Rigid Plasticity of El Anatsui’s Tapestries

Stasya Chyzhykova
Feb 11, 2013 11:41PM

Last Sunday afternoon El Anatsui and his major devotee, Susan Vogel, who has done extensive research on the artist’s work spoke to the visitors of the Brooklyn Museum.

Ms. Vogel suggested connections between the work and the artist’s upbringing as well as his life in a mission house in Ghana. The scholar also emphasized the influence of kente, a traditional West African strip weaving technique, on El Anatsui’s creative process. 

She also incessantly implied El Anatsui’s critical role in the contemporary art as the single most prominent African artist. El Anatsui remained humbled and reserved, responding in a soft voice: “I am just an artist trying to reach out to people. Whether I am African or not, does not matter.” 

What does seem to matter to the sculptor is the material and process. Similar to John Chamberlain, El Anatsui is a heavily process-oriented artist who for over a decade has remained infatuated with transformative capacities of a seemingly commonplace material, metal caps. Since he began experimenting and collecting liquor-branded metal caps on the streets in 1999, El Anatsui has been exploring fluidity and plasticity of this rigid material.

This versatility of the material translates to the final outcome. Each metal drapery gets rearranged every time it is installed in a new space to emphasize that just as the life of an artists, the artwork too is in a perpetual state of flux. El Anatsui also believes that these frequent transformations re-engage viewers, allowing them to continuously re-discover familiar tapestries.

In the future the artist is determined to add a new level of complexity to his work. Now that El Anatsui has a significant collection of caps in all possible colors the sculptor can afford to enrich his palette, making it shimmer even greater and brighter.

El Anatsui intriguingly names this next creative step “buoyancy.” His fans rejoice in anticipation.  

Stasya Chyzhykova