El Anatsui is African history’s most prominent artist and his contemporary art has earned him much international acclaim in the world of art. And, Qatar is lucky to be showcasing his artistic wonders in an exhibition titled ‘El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale’ at the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, which is a member of the Qatar Foundation and is located in Education City in a space that’s dedicated to artistic creativity that knows no boundaries.
El Anatsui is one such artist. His art is without boundaries – it’s simple: he uses simple everyday objects and materials like bottle caps from liquor bottles, cassava graters, printing plates, copper wire and other such materials, and yet complex: he has an intrinsic fascination with connecting to his homeland while transcending the limitations of place, and his artistic endeavours probe within the history of colonialism and draw connections between the environment, consumption and waste which is showcased in his own unique artistic language.
The everyday materials this Ghanian artist, who now lives and works in Nigeria and Ghana, uses in his art show his interest in the idea of reuse and transform, which he does with ease as he turns them into art installations for the world to see and marvel at. His art has the ability to engage with the complex flow of history, memory and time, and the way in which these forces shape human society.
The ‘El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale’ is a must visit exhibition in Qatar for many reasons. Let’s tell you what those reasons are.
As the exhibition title suggests, the survey focuses on the triumphant and monumental quality of Anatsui’s sculptures and testifies to Anatsui’s invention of a completely new and unique sculptural form and visual language.
The exhibition encompasses every medium in the artist’s prodigious 50 year career, including the signature bottle-cap series developed over the last two decades, wood sculptures and wall reliefs spanning the mid-1970’s to the late 1990’s; ceramic sculptures of the late 1970’s, as well as drawings, prints and books. It presents ideas that inform his practice across the diverse media that he has worked with, from circular and multi-panel wood reliefs to terracotta forms, and the later metal sculptures.
The exhibition is the largest ever survey mounted of the work of the acclaimed artist El Anatsui and is spread across 10 separate gallery spaces in Mathaf. Amongst the works is Logoligi Logarithm, a specially created installation for the gallery’s performance space. Logoligi Logarithm’s alluring play of light and material recalls the refraction of sunlight in a mist or fog. The work is dedicated to the Ghanaian poet, Atukwei Okai, who died in 2018.
Structurally related to his 2010 work Gli (Wall), in this complex site-specific work, the diaphanous form is achieved through the stitching patterns developed by Anatsui and his assistants using thin bottle cap seals.
Other prominent works by El Anatsui being showcased at the ‘El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale’ include the Gravity and Grace (2010) made with aluminum and copper wire, the Man’s Cloth (2001) made with aluminum and copper wire and Erosion (1992) made with wood, amongst many others.
This 75-year-old artist’s intricately designed art installations can grow to monumental scale; they are oft heavy, bright and shimmery, and yet they are flexible and easy to handle. When he lends his works to an exhibition, he allows the exhibitor to be creative and showcase them as they see fit, so you may see them in different places in different forms. El Anatsui usually gives his artworks evocative and poetic names so they can be interpreted in whichever way the onlooker wants.
Sculptures are usually considered as rigid forms of art that cannot be molded once complete. A lot of his sculptures are in the form of tapestries that are flexible and can be molded or placed anywhere and in different forms depending on the exhibitor. This is one aspect of El Anatsui’s art that makes him unique and has gained him international acclaim and influenced many generations of young and emerging artists.
El Anatsui has consistently worked to transform the formal possibilities of African sculptural idioms. Over 50 years, he has repeatedly revised and reinvented his material and compositional techniques to astonishing effect - from the early smaller wooden reliefs with their incised markings and broken ceramic forms, to the monumental outdoor cement sculptures, and, more recently, the vast and spectacular metal wall and floor works, which blur the boundaries between sculpture, painting and assemblage.
The artist generates meaning out of his material and technical process. For example, the bottle caps come from hard liquors introduced by Europeans as currency - and portray a means of subjugation - during the era of transatlantic slavery and colonisation.
The process of cutting, flattening, squeezing, twisting, folding and stitching thousands of bottle caps together with copper wire to create one dazzling tapestry serves as a metaphor for the epic constitution of human society and the making of human communities out of connected individual subjectivities.
El Anatsui's work is in major public collections in Africa, Asia, North America and Europe, including the Asele Institute (Nimo); the African Studies Gallery of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (Nsukka); The British Museum (London); The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C.); the Centre Pompidou (Paris); the Los Angeles County Museum (Los Angeles); the Des Moines Art Center (Des Moines); the De Young Museum (San Francisco); the Museum Kunstpalast (Dusseldorf); the Setagaya Museum (Tokyo); the National Gallery of Modern Art (Lagos); the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York); the Museum of Modern Art (New York); the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto); the Tate (London); the Nelson-Atkins Museum (Kansas City); the Iwalewahaus, University of Bayreuth (Bayreuth); the Jordan National Museum (Amman); the Leeum Samsung Museum (Seoul); the Brooklyn Museum (New York); The Broad (Los Angeles); the Indianapolis Museum of Art (Indianapolis); the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston); the Guggenheim Museum (Abu Dhabi) and the Saint Louis Art Museum (Saint Louis).
A member of the Aka Circle of Exhibiting Artists and a leading figure of the Nsukka School, El Anatsui has exhibited in five continents over the last 50 years. His numerous solo exhibitions include ‘Wooden Wall Plaques’, Asele Art Gallery, Nsukka, Nigeria (1976); ‘Broken Pots: Sculpture by El Anatsui’, Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (1979); ‘Venovize: Ceramic Sculpture by El Anatsui’, Faculty of Art and Design Gallery, Cornwall College, Redruth (1987); Gawu, Oriel Mostyn Gallery, Llandudno, Wales (2003); ‘Gli’, Rice University Art Gallery, Houston (2010); ‘A Fateful Journey’, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, and The Museum of Modern Art, Hayama (2010); ‘Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui’, Akron Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, New York, Des Moines Art Center, Bass Museum of Art and Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (2012- 2015) and many other exhibitions in museums, galleries and foundations.
El Anatsui has participated in major group exhibitions including the Venice Biennale (1990 and 2007); the 5th Biennale in Havana (1994); the lst Johannesburg Biennale (1995); and the biennials of Dakar (2000), Liverpool (2002), Gwangju (2004) and Marrakesh (2016); as well as the 9th Sculpture Biennial of Osaka (1998) and La Triennale, Paris (2012). He is one of the featured artists in the first Ghana National Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale.
Public commissions include ‘Broken Bridge’ for La Triennale, Paris (Museé Galiera) 2012; ‘Broken Bridge II’, 2012-2013, presented by Friends of the High Line, New York; and ‘Tsiatsia - Searching for Connection’, 2013 on the facade of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Most recently ‘Three Angles’ was installed on the facade of the Carnegie Museum for the 2018 Carnegie International, Pittsburgh.
El Anatsui has received many prestigious awards, including the Praemium Imperiale (2017); the Golden Lion for Life Work at the Venice Biennale (2015); the Audience Award at the 7th Triennale of Small Sculpture in Fellbach; and the Kansai Telecasting Prize at the Osaka Triennale (1995). He has received honorary doctorates from Harvard University and the University of Cape Town (2016) and he was made an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2014) and the Royal Academy of Art (2013). He won the Prince Claus Award (2009) and the 30th Anniversary Award from the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (2009), among others.
The exhibition is curated by the late Okwui Enwezor, poet, art critic, art historian and curator and Chika Okeke-Agulu, Professor of Art History at the Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University. It has been organised by Haus der Kunst, Munich in cooperation with Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, the Kunstmuseum Bern and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Following its showing at Mathaf, the exhibition will move to the Kunstmuseum Bern from March 13 to June 21, 2020; and then to Guggenheim Bilbao from July 17 to November 1, 2020.
Location: Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art
Education City, Doha, Qatar
Dates: 1 October 2019 - 31 January 2020
Timings: Saturday to Thursday: 9 am - 7 pm; Friday 1.30 pm - 7 pm.
Ticket prices: Admission is free.
For more information, please visit: www.mathaf.org.qa
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