El Anatsui: Gawu at National Museum of African Art

el anatsui gawu art exhibitWhile screen-glancing at work last week I spotted Bill O’Leary’s photos highlighting Nigerian artist El Anatsui who has an exhibit thru September 2 here in Washington, D.C. The Post ran a story on the exhibit in Sunday’s paper (read that here, including slideshow).

I first became aware of El Anatsui’s art while in San Francisco before Christmas when I saw one of his large “Kente cloth” pieces on the second floor of the de Young Museum. It was constructed out of pieces of colorful scrap metal woven into a large wall tapestry that folded as it draped ceiling to floor.

The Smithsonian presentation of El Anatsui’s work has around a dozen pieces. The artist flew out and helped arrange them in the space; his artwork is flexible and each time it is shown it shows different characteristics. If you’re visit the District anytime this summer, this exhibit is worth checking out.

From the Smithsonian website where you can see more of his artwork:

Throughout his career Ghanaian artist El Anatsui has experimented with a variety of media, including wood, ceramics and paint. Most recently, he has focused on discarded metal objects, hundreds or even thousands of which are joined together to create truly remarkable works of art. Anatsui indicates that the word gawu(derived from Ewe, his native language) has several potential meanings, including “metal” and “a fashioned cloak.” The term, therefore, manages to encapsulate the medium, process and format of the works on view, reflecting the artist’s transformation of discarded materials into objects of striking beauty and originality.

The metal fragments that constitute the raw material of Anatsui’s work have had a profound impact on the West African societies that use, reuse and finally discard them. Several of his metal “cloths” are constructed with aluminum wrappings from the tops of bottles that once contained spirits from local distilleries. The three-dimensional sculptures are made of the discarded tops of evaporated milk tins, rusty metal graters and old printing plates, all gathered in and around Nsukka, Nigeria, where the artist has lived and worked for the last 28 years.

Drawing on the aesthetic traditions of his native Ghana and adopted Nigeria, as well as contemporary Western forms of expression, Anatsui’s works engage the cultural, social and economic histories of West Africa. Through their associations, his humble metal fragments provide a commentary on globalization, consumerism, waste and the transience of people’s lives in West Africa and beyond. Their re-creation as powerful and transcendent works of art–many of which recall traditional practices and art forms–suggests as well the power of human agency to alter such harmful patterns.

Continue on to the museum exhibit. . .

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