By Tajudeen Sowole
Again, Africa confirms its growing status on the global space of visual arts as El Anatsui has been announced as Winner of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 56th Venice Biennale.
Two years ago, first timer, Angola, picked the Golden Lion prize award for the best national pavilion courtesy of the work titled ‘Luanda, Encyclopedic City’, a photography composite by Edson Chagas.
For Anatsui, it’s an individual recognition for lifetime effort. The awards ceremony, according to a press statement from the organisers, will be held on Saturday May 9, 2015 at Ca’ Giustinian, the historic headquarters of la Biennale di Venezia. Based on recommendation from of the Curator of the 56th International Art Exhibition Okwui Enwezor, the Board of Directors of la Biennale chaired by Paolo Baratta, agreed on the award.
Members of the 56th Venice Biennale jury include Naomi Beckwith (US), Sabine Breitwieser (Austria), Mario Codognato (Italy), Ranjit Hoskote (India) and Yongwoo Lee (South Korea).
The recommendation states: “Born in 1944 in Anyako, Ghana, and based at the university town Nsukka in Nigeria since 1975, El Anatsui is perhaps the most significant living African artist working on the continent today. The award for which I am recommending him is an important honor to an artist who has contributed immensely to the recognition of contemporary African artists in the global arena. It is also a worthy recognition of the originality of Anatsui’s artistic vision, his long-term commitment to formal innovation, and his assertion through his work of the place of Africa’s artistic and cultural traditions in international contemporary art. The Golden Lion Award acknowledges not just his recent successes internationally, but also his artistic influence amongst two generations of artists working in West Africa. It is also an acknowledgment of the sustained, crucial work he has done as an artist, mentor and teacher for the past forty-five years.
“A graduate of the sculpture program of the acclaimed Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Anatsui’s career direction was determined not so much by the still neo- colonial 1960s curriculum of the art school as by his identification with the progressive cultural politics championed by Ghanaian and African cultural nationalists of the independence era. Working with everyday objects on which he imbued philosophical and idiomatic signs, Anatsui’s earliest work consisted of round wood reliefs inspired by trays used by Kumasi traders for displaying their wares. On these trays he carved adinkra motifs and other designs and in the process was attracted to the dynamic relationship between the rich symbolism and graphic power of adinkra signs. Once aware of this possibility of simultaneous evocation of significant form and idea in adinkra, Anatsui, who in 1975 joined the faculty of the Fine and Applied Arts Department at the University of Nigeria, expanded his field of artistic resources to other West African design and sign systems, and syllabaries, including Igbo Uli, Efik Nsibidi, Bamun and Vai scripts. In time, he became a leading member of the famed Nsukka School presented at the important art exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in 1997. Today, Anatsui remains committed to the development of new artistic forms from African sources as well as from materials available in his local environment.”
Anatsui is picking the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement Award in the year of the Venice Biennale when Africa has more artists showing their works at the global event.
With All the World’s Futures, as the theme of the 56 th Venice Biennale art exhibition, about 35 black artists from Africa, the U.S and Europe have been announced with nearly half of them based in Africa.
The 2015 Venice Biennale, which opens from May 9 with previews beginning May 6, and runs through November 22 has over 136 artists from 53 countries. According to a press statement from the organisers, it will feature a space called The Arena, for performance in the Central Pavilion designed by David Adjaye.
“The linchpin of this program will be the epic live reading of all three volumes of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital,” said Enwezor.“Here, Das Kapital will serve as a kind of Oratorio that will be continuously read live, throughout the exhibition’s seven months’ duration.” Among several other features is what has been described as a new production of Vincenzo Bellini's Norma (1831), which will be staged at La Fenice Opera House and directed by Kara Walker.
Nigerian artists at the event include Karo Akpokiere, b..1981, lives and works in Lagos/ Berlin; Invisible Borders: Trans-African Photographers, an artists’ organisation founded in 2011, based In Lagos, but led by Emeka Okereke, a France-based photographer; Emeka Ogboh b. 1977, lives and works in Lagos/ Berlin.
They are however not exactly representing the country formally. Nigeria has never had a pavilion at the Venice Biennale, a gathering regarded as the 'Olympics of The Arts'.
Artists from Africa showing at the event include John Akomfrah, b.1957. Ghana, lives and works In London; Kay Hassan, b.1956, South Africa, lives and works in Johannesburg; Samson Kambalu b. 1975 Malawi, Lives And Works In London; Gonçalo Mabunda, b. 1975, Mozambique, lives and works In Maputo; Ibrahim Mahama, b.. 1987 Ghana, lives and works in Tamale; Abu Bakarr Mansaray, b. 1970, Sierra Leone, lives and works in Freetown/The Netherlands; Wangechi Mutu, b. 1972, Kenya, lives and works in New York; Cheikh Ndiaye, b. 1970 Senegal, lives and works in New York, Dakar And Lyon.
Others are Joachim Schönfeldt, b. 1958, South Africa, lives and works in Johannesburg; Massinissa Selmani, b. 1980 Algeria, lives and works in Algiers/Tours; Fatou Kandé Sengho, b. 1971 Senegal, lives And works in Dakar; Sammy Baloji, b.. 1978 Democratic Republic Of Congo, lives and works in Lubumbashi/Brussels.
Anatsui. An alumnus of the College of Art, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana, El Anatsui (b. 1944) is one of the most exciting international
contemporary artists of our time. Throughout a distinguished forty-year career as both sculptor and teacher – he was Professor of Sculpture and Departmental Head at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka – El Anatsui has addressed a vast range of social, political and historical concerns, and
embraced an equally diverse range of media and processes. His sculptures have been collected by major international museums, from the British Museum, London to the Centre Pompidou, Paris;
the de Young Museum, San Francisco, USA; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Guggenheim, Abu Dhabi; Osaka Foundation of Culture, Osaka; Museum of Modern Art, New York and many other prestigious institutions besides.