Since 1974, El Anatsui, originally from Ghana, has resided in Nsukka, Nigeria, where he is an art educator at the University of Nigeria‑Nsukka. Primarily a sculptor, the artist has been well known in the African art community for decades, especially for his wood sculptures, many made from discarded wood materials.
This theme of recycling and reuse underlies his most recent body of work, for which he has received international recognition and acclaim. Clothlike metal sculptures are laboriously constructed from discarded bottle caps and liquor packaging pieced together to create large, draping sculptures. When hung on the wall, these sculptures appear as shimmering veils or undulating tapestries from afar. The artist’s early works in this vein were inspired in part by Ghanaian kente cloth, evoking colors and patterns of this traditional form of weaving. His work also subtly but pointedly references the fraught social and economic history of West Africa, specifically Ghana, where liquor was once traded for slaves. Often this same liquor was made from sugar cane in the Caribbean, harvested through African slave labor. Though El Anatsui’s dazzling tapestry-like sculptures elicit a profound sense of wonder at the beauty gleaned from such common materials, the use of remnants from this ongoing trade in alcoholic beverages evokes a very complicated history that infuses the work with a sobering undercurrent. The title Lines That Link Humanity suggests the interconnected histories, fates, and circumstances of people and cultures worldwide.
This work is unique among El Anatsui’s metal sculptures in that it is “site responsive,” resulting from an extended interaction between the NCMA and the artist.