By Tajudeen Sowole
The first quarter of 2016 is El Anatsui's season of art shows, which provides the Ghanaian-born 'Nigerian master' a window to stress his strides to as far as Sydney, Australia. Within a month, Anatsui's two solo art exhibitions opened, each in London and Sydney.
What has been described as the artist's "most" comprehensive exhibition for a long time is currently showing as El Anatsui: Five Decades at Carriageworks, in Sydney till March 2016. Over a week ago, El Anatsui: New Works opened at October Gallery, London, ending April 2016.
For the Aussieland exhibition, over 30 works created from the 1970s till date are on display, so says a press statement from Carriageworks, The works in the exhibition include ceramics, drawings, sculptures and woodcarvings, as well as the massive installations for which he has attained global recognition. More interesting, Anatsui is showing in Australia for the first time, despite having exhibited widely in Europe and the U.S in the last one decade.
“El Anatsui: Five Decades is an ambitious project and reflects Carriageworks commitment to presenting the most ambitious contemporary art from around the world in Australia, says Lisa Havilah, Director of Carriageworks,. "This major exhibition continues our annual series presenting the major installations by the most exciting international visual artists working today.”
If there is any living artist of Sub-saharan descent whose art has projected Africa to the outside world within a short period, Anatsui fits that status. His work lifts modern African art from the shadow of traditional context and project it into the future. And having come so strong, there appears to be a quiet movement of artists, among Nigerians, who are, individually, following the track of Anatsui's texture, as fragile as the career of such 'disciples' may seems.
Really, any younger artist, particularly from Africa would want to be associated with a global master like Anatsui. His legendary recgniion in the art world as is not in doubt, says
Beatrice Gralton, Visual Arts Curator, Carriageworks. “El Anatsui is one of the world’s great artists and it is an honour to be presenting these remarkable works in Carriageworks’ unique spaces."
The gallery notes how Five Decades shows the Anatsui's "early propensity" in merging "traditional styles with contemporary art and current issues." The artist, Carriageworks explains "reveals an awareness of the fragility and transience of existence; a belief that damaged or discarded objects can be transformed into something new; a working method that incorporates multiple sources and parts to form a whole; and the importance of language as a metaphor to expand the interpretation of art."
Among revealations of the artist's oeuvre at the exhibition are his early ceramics, prints and sculptures, which have Ghanaian native adinkra symbols.
The gallery notes how Five Decades shows Anatsui's "early propensity" in merging "traditional styles with contemporary art and current issues." The artist's body of work, Carriageworks explains, "reveals an awareness of the fragility and transience of existence; a belief that damaged or discarded objects can be transformed into something new; a working method that incorporates multiple sources and parts to form a whole; and the importance of language as a metaphor to expand the interpretation of art."
On his encryption of rich African contents in his work, the gallery argues it stresses that "art is never stagnant nor determined, rather it is part of the changing rhythm of contemporary life."
More importantly, the exhibition, according to he organisers, revisits colonial factors in the trajectory of Africa.. "Five Decades probes the histories of colonial and post-colonial Africa alongside themes of consumption, exchange and renewal and the limitless beauty found in the everyday. Anatsui’s art presents a coming together of cultures, artistic traditions and contemporary life."
Excerpts from the gallery statement adds: "Five Decades demonstrates Anatsui’s ingenuity in working with repurposed materials including wood, aluminium printing plates, tin boxes and liquor bottle tops. In 1998 the chance discovery of a garbage bag of Nigerian alcohol bottle tops presented him with a new material with which he could produce an extraordinary range of effects.
Flattened, folded and bound together with copper wire, the labels from whiskey, wine, rum, gin, brandy, vodka and schnapps – all produced in West Africa – reflected the stories of cultural exchange, consumption, colonialism and migration particular to the continent. The shimmering palette of these labels and evocative brand names including Dark Sailor, King Solomon, 007, Chairman and Makossa also added a new kind of graphic element to Anatsui’s work."
Born in 1944 in Anyako, Ghana, Anatsui lives and works in Nsukka, Nigeria and is recognised as one of the world’s leading contemporary artists, having been awarded the esteemed Gold Lion award at the 2015 Venice Biennale. Categorically undefinable, Anatsui’s work combines the history and trajectory of abstract art with the local vernacular of Ghana and Nigeria.