Art That Inspires Me · Contemporary Art

Art That Inspires Me: El Anatsui

El Anatsui (b. 1944) is a Nigerian artist who creates beautiful, tapestry-like works out of found materials like bottle caps and scrap metal. I first became aware of him thanks to a New York Times article that I read several years ago, and I’ve been a fan ever since. I’ve been lucky enough to see his work at a few different museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Yale University Art Gallery. I’ve been meaning to write an article about him for some time now.

El Anatsui, Society Woman’s Cloth (Gold), 2006. Aluminum bottle caps and copper wire.Yale University Art Museum, New Haven, CT. Photo by A Scholarly Skater.

*I believe that my use of this small picture for educational, non-commercial purposes is permissible under fair use guidelines. If anyone has a legitimate (non-trollish) reason to think otherwise, let me know.*

All of El Anatsui’s works are very large and commanding. They’re typically colorful, and they always shine and glitter. You could stand for an hour or more and just look at all the little details of the construction and of the materials’ surface. I can’t imagine all the hours of work that went into making each piece. I’m always quite transfixed when I see one.

The thing that I find so truly inspiring about El Anatsui’s work is how he manages to take something as common and lowly as found bottle caps and turn them into something so beautiful. I mean, his art is gorgeous, and yet he makes it out of things people have thrown away! It’s uplifting to see how this sort of transformation really is possible.

I also think it’s interesting that the origins of El Anatsui’s materials are not immediately apparent. Most other found object sculptures that I’ve seen advertise that status very loudly, and your entire experience with them hinges on that. By contrast, El Anatsui’s works would be striking and worthy of attention even if you never read the wall text to learn what they’re made out of. Don’t get me wrong – his materials and their many possible connotations are definitely an important part of his message, and you’ll miss out if you don’t pay attention to it. I just admire the fact that his works have more than one dimension to them.

Quite a few major American museums own pieces by El Anatsui, including the Met, MoMA, and the Brooklyn Museum, as do a few large foreign museums. So, you’re chances of getting to see one are pretty good. Because El Anatsui’s work is not in the public domain, I can’t post larger photos of his work. If you want to see more of his work online and also learn more about his biography, you can try this article from DailyArt Magazine, this video and this article from Smart History, and many resources from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (just search for his name, since there are too many to list here).

What to read more about the art that inspires me? Click here. What to tell me about the art that inspires you? Please do!

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