We stumbled upon the immense, wonderful, exquisite, intricate work of El Anatsui yesterday at the Manchester Art Gallery. The enormous wall sculpture In the World But Don’t Know the World made of thousands of metal bottle tops and alluminium wrappings each of which had been individually reshaped to give differential textural qualities close up and from afar. Each bottle top is tied to adjacent tops with wire and together they shimmer in the light like a vast fluid quilt, which should be seen in the flesh to be fully appreciated.
El Anatsui, In the World But Don’t Know the World 2009
El Anatsui is widely recognized as one of Africa’s foremost contemporary artists. He was born in Ghana in 1944 but is now based in Nigeria, where he is Head of Sculpture in the Fine and Applied Arts Department at the University of Nigeria. He uses found objects such as bottle tops which relate to his environment and is interested in the history, meaning inherent within the material and the metamorphosis which takes place. Alcohol is significant as it was a commodity that Europeans traded for slaves in West Africa and major European companies were founded on the wealth produced by exporting gin, schnapps and brandy to Africa.
El Anatsui has a team of assistants each with their own particular way of handling the materials and he is like a conductor understanding the materials and different touches, bringing the best out of each individual assistant to create each beautiful piece. The finished sculptures are never fixed but reconfigured at each location, forever changing.
In the World But Don’t Know the World is exhibited as part of We Face Forward, an exhibition of contemporary art from West Africa, shown across three venues: Manchester Art Gallery, Whitworth Art Gallery and the Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall. It features painting, photography, textiles, sculpture, video and sound work from 32 artists from 9 countries in West Africa. Recent art, much of which has never been shown in the UK before, is shown alongside new commissions made especially for Manchester. The exhibition continues until 16th September. http://www.wefaceforward.org/art