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By Culturekiosque Staff

DENVER, COLORADO, 9 SEPTEMBER 2011 — The first retrospective of the prolific Ghanian sculptor El Anatsui opened today at the Denver Art Museum (DAM) in Colorado. Entitled El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa and on view until 30 December 2012, the show includes important sculptures in wood, ceramic, and mixed media as well as major pieces from his celebrated bottle-top series. The 61 works cover all phases of the artist’s career, from his early work in Ghana utilizing traditional symbols to found driftwood works made in Denmark to sculptures made using the chainsaw as a carving tool.  One of contemporary art’s leading figures, this is the first opportunity for North American audiences to see how the artist’s ideas have evolved over four decades. Organized by the Museum for African Art (MfAA), New York, the exhibition  is installed in the level four galleries in the Hamilton Building of the Denver Art Museum. 

Sculptor El Anatsui walks through his exhibit at the Denver Museum of Art
during a press preview of his retrospective,
El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa

In 2008, the DAM’s native arts department commissioned Rain Has No Father?, a 13 ft., 2 in. tall by 19 ft., 9 in. wide tapestry, which Anatsui created out of found liquor bottle tops and copper wire. The artwork debuted as part of Embrace!, a site-specific exhibition highlighting the architecture of the Daniel Libeskind-designed Hamilton Building in 2010. Today it hangs in the African art galleries, adjacent to the retrospective display. Thus, visitors can make direct connections between the stunning metal wall sculpture and the comprehensive collection of Anatsui’s work hanging a few feet away.

In the 1970s, Anatsui began to manipulate broken ceramic fragments. With their allusions to ancient Nok terracotta sculptures, West African myths about the earth and cultural references to the use of clay, the ceramic works piece together shattered ideas and histories to form a new whole. In the same decade, he also made sculptures that brought together signs and symbols from various cultures and languages, created by chopping, carving, burning and etching wood.

In the 1990s, Anatsui made a crucial shift from working with hand tools to carving with a power saw, which enabled him to cut through blocks of wood, leaving a jagged surface that he likened to the scars left by European colonial encounters with Africa.

In his most recent metal wall sculptures, Anatsui assembles thousands of West African liquor-bottle tops into moving patterns of stunning visual impact, transforming this simple material into large shimmering forms. When I Last Wrote to You about Africa includes the largest compilation of Anatsui’s works ever assembled, including massive wall pieces and large-scale floor installations. "I think of myself as an artist," Anatsui said in an interview with Agence-France-Presse. "And I'm an African." 

El Anatsui: Sacred Moon, 2007
 Aluminum and copper wire
Photo courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery

El Anatsui was born in Ghana in 1944. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sculpture and a postgraduate diploma in art education from the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. He began teaching at the University of Nigeria in 1975 and went on to head the Fine and Applied Arts Department from 1998 to 2000. He held the title of Professor of Sculpture prior to retiring in 2011.  

Anatsui’s work has appeared in group exhibitions at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History, UCLA; the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.; the Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, Finland; and in international exhibitions such as Africa Remix (2005-2007) and The Missing Peace (2006-2011). His work has also been selected for numerous biennial exhibitions, including in Venice (1990 and 2007), Havana (1994), Johannesburg (1995), Gwangju (2004), Sharjah (2009), Paris Triennial (2012) and the Biennale of Sydney (2012). Solo exhibitions include Gawu, on view in Europe, North America and Asia (2004-2008), Gli at the Rice University Art Gallery, Houston (2010), A Fateful Journey: Africa in the Works of El Anatsui at the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan (2010) and El Anatsui at the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (2011). In 2008, Anatsui received the Visionaries Artist Award from the Museum of Arts and Design, in New York City. He is also a laureate of the 2009 Prince Claus Award.

The exhibition is accompanied by the richly illustrated catalogue, El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa, with contributions by Kwame Anthony Appiah, Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University; Lisa Binder, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Museum for African Art, New York; Olu Oguibe, Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Connecticut; Chika Okeke-Agulu, Assistant Professor Art and Archaeology at Princeton University; and Robert Storr, Dean of the Yale School of Art. After Denver, the exhibition will travel to the University of Michigan Museum of Art, 2 February – 28 April 2013.

El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa
9 September 2012 – 30 December 2012

Denver Art Museum
13th Avenue between Broadway and Bannock Streets
Denver, Colorado
United States of America
Closed Monday
Tel: (1) 720 865 50 00


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