African textiles, £10.99
El Anatsui, Monument, wood and metal
Made in Helsingor, Denmark, in AD 1996
El Anatsui is widely recognized as one of Africa's foremost contemporary artists. He was born in Ghana in 1944 but is now based in Nigeria, where he is Head of Sculpture in the Fine and Applied Arts Department at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His work draws on the broad spectrum of indigenous African cultures and is particularly concerned with the erosion of inherited traditions by external forces and the nature of their continued transmission.
Monument is an imposing sculpture made from carved sections of tree trunk. In two parts, it marked the entrance to the Ground Force Africa Garden. The complex relationship between inorganic change and the organic presentation of heritage is central to the piece. Many of El Anatsui's early works in wood were made entirely with a chain saw, although he also now utilizes precision power tools in order to create more intricate designs. Monument was made in 1996 during El Anatsui's residency in Helsingor in Denmark. At this time he worked in a converted blacksmith's forge where the Dane guns used by slave traders in Africa were once made.
El Anatsui has used many different materials over the years, including paint, metal, clay and more recently recycled materials. The latter are utilized in his Cloth series: Man's Cloth, made from discarded foil bottle-neck wrappers, is on display in the British Museum's Sainsbury African Galleries (Room 25). The piece is a reflection on the traditional narrow-strip woven silk cloth made in Ghana, a source of national pride. Through his choice of materials, El Anatsui addresses the erosion of cultural values through unchecked consumerism. His work is ultimately optimistic, though, indicating the dynamism and strength of tradition.
John Picton et. al., El Anatsui: a sculpted history (London, Saffron Books, 1998)
J. Mack (ed.), Africa: arts and cultures (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)