Monday, June 17, 2013

El Anatsui - Twice in Two Days

In this spacious light-filled room, it felt like stepping into an ancient Stonehenge-like monument.  I had known of El Anatsui's iconic wall hangings made from re-purposed scrap metal, and made sure to get to New York while his exhibit was still at The Brooklyn Museum.  I was stunned by WASTE PAPER BAGS, 2004-10.

"Made from discarded aluminum plates used for printing everything from newspaper sports, political, and obituary pages to wedding invitations, the malleable sheets comprising Waste Paper Bags evoke everyday Nigerian life through universally recognizable forms.

They may also suggest a particular Nigerian experience that affected this Ghanaian artist.  The forms resemble large woven bags that became known as "Ghana must-go" bags in the early 1980s, when Nigerians hostile toward Ghanaian refugees who had fled political and economic unrest suggested they pack their belongings in such sacks and return home.  They speak to the artist's own nomadic history, while recalling a tragic moment that challenged his pan-African ideals."

This is El Anatsui's greatness.  He takes difficult historical, political, and sociological themes, and uplifts them into something that is transcendent.

I saw the exhibit with a friend on Friday, and again with my cousins on Saturday.  I saw more the second time, and got the video so that I could continue listening to El Anatsui speak about his work and demonstrate his collaborative creative process.  I want to learn his philosophy of life.  He is one of our spiritual elders. 

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