Not even the threat of harrowing snowstorm Nemo could keep crowds from gathering for the opening of El Anatsui’s first solo exhibition in New York City, “Gravity and Grace,” at the Brooklyn Museum on Feb. 8.
This particular exhibition is like no other; it tells a history of countries through the use of objects. However, these objects are not the traditional constituents of large-scale artwork. Instead, artist Anatsui uses items that one would usually find while looking through the trash, such as bottle caps, old newspapers or the lids from condensed milk cans.
It was Anatsui’s initial discovery of a sack of discarded liquor bottle caps that changed his interest in art to a practice. Born in Anyako, Ghana, he received a bachelor’s degree and postgraduate degree from the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. Since the late 1970s, he has lived and worked in Nigeria as a professor at the University of Nigeria. His work has been featured in museums around the world such as the Museum of Modern Art, the British Museum and the Centre Pompidou.
For an artist whose work has become globally acclaimed, it is no coincidence that most of his work builds upon the cultural exchange among Africa, Europe and the Americas. One of the larger pieces of Anatsui’s work in the exhibition, “Gli,” (which translates to “wall” in Ewe, a language spoken in Ghana) reflects this exact sentiment.
Anatsui creates his own wall by manipulating bottle caps and other materials in art inspired by locations such as Jerusalem, Berlin and Notsie (a city in Togo), whose histories have been dictated by structures such as the one Anatsui simulates with his work. However, in this exhibit, “Gli” hangs from ceiling to floor, serving as a transparent wall that separates two sides of the exhibit. Even with bottle cap ingredients, the product is a colorful, texturized entity that evokes memories of other African art–a reminder that Anatsui will not forget his African roots.
His varying works of the exhibit had a unique way of symbolizing the interconnectedness of countries, and that does not go unnoticed by onlookers. Denise Felix, an artist originally from Haiti, has observed individual works by Anatsui before and was excited to witness a full exhibit.
“I think the work is exceptionally unique. It is a new medium,” she said. “Sometimes you think you are touching gold, but it is just bottle caps. It is a great innovation.”
The originality of the work comes from his use of innovative materials, but pieces that are seen in one museum are likely to be situated differently than the pieces in the Brooklyn Museum. Every installation of Anatsui’s work is radically different. He allows curators to install his work in a way that makes sense for each particular exhibition space.
The “Gravity and Grace”
exhibition will be on view until Aug. 4th.