January 5, 2016 - Carriageworks - El Anatsui: Five Decades
January 5, 2016


El Anatsui, Adinkra Sasa (detail), 2003. Fabric, aluminium and copper wire, 488 x 549 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. © El Anatsui.

El Anatsui
Five Decades
January 7–March 6, 2016

245 Wilson St
Eveleigh NSW 2016
Hours: Monday–Sunday 10am–6pm

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"Human life is constantly in a state of change...I want my work to replicate that experience."
–El Anatsui

Acknowledged as one of the most remarkable artists working today, El Anatsui was born in 1944 in Anyako, Ghana, and currently lives and works in Nsukka, Nigeria. El Anatsui: Five Decades is a Schwartz Carriageworks Project presented in association with Sydney Festival and is the first major exhibition of Anatsui’s work to be presented in Australia. Five Decades includes over 30 works from the 1970s to now, highlighting key themes including an awareness of the fragility and transience of existence; a belief that damaged or discarded objects can be transformed into something new; a working method that incorporates multiple sources and parts to form a whole; and the importance of language as a metaphor to expand the interpretation of art.

Categorically indefinable, Anatsui’s work combines the history and trajectory of abstract art with the local vernacular and materials of Ghana and Nigeria. Many of Anatsui’s early ceramics, prints and sculptures incorporate West African adinkra symbols within their surfaces. The range of work featured in Five Decades demonstrates Anatsui’s ability to work with repurposed materials including wood, aluminium printing plates, tin boxes and liquor bottle tops to extraordinary effect. In 1998, the chance discovery of a garbage bag of Nigerian alcohol bottle tops presented him with a new material. Flattened, folded and bound together with copper wire, the labels, ranging from whiskey, wine, rum, gin, brandy, vodka and schnapps—all produced in West Africa—reflect the stories of cultural exchange, consumption, colonialism and migration particular to his home. The shimmering palette of these labels and evocative brand names, including Dark Sailor, King Solomon, 007, Chairman and Makossa, also add a graphic element to Anatsui’s work.

Anatsui’s adaptions of the rich visual culture of Africa reaffirm that art is never bound by tradition, but is rather a part of the changing rhythm of contemporary life. While many of Anatsui’s later works are monumental in scale, they are also handmade, shaped by human touch and individuality. From the walls to the floor, the objects unfurl, expansive rather than confined, suggesting the contours of landscape, cartography, and the language of abstract painting. Five Decades probes the histories of colonial and post-colonial Africa alongside the limitless beauty found in the everyday. Just as the trade of cocoa, gold and timber bound the history of Africa with Europe and the Americas, Anatsui’s art presents a coming together of cultures, artistic traditions and contemporary life.

About Carriageworks
Carriageworks is the largest and most significant contemporary multi-arts centre of its kind in Australia. The Carriageworks Artistic Program is ambitious, risk taking and provides significant support to leading Australian and international artists through commissioning and presenting contemporary work. The program is artist-led and emerges from Carriageworks’ commitment to reflecting social and cultural diversity.

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Five Decades
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