Contemporary African Art Exhibition Series


 “About six years ago I found a big bag of liquor bottle tops apparently thrown away in the bush. At the time I was searching for a pot monument (pillars of stacked pots, each of which represents bereavement in the village) that I had seen decades before in that locality. I kept the bottle caps in the studio for several months until the idea eventually came to me that by stitching them together I could get them to articulate some statement. When the process of stitching got underway, I discovered that the result resembled a real fabric cloth. Incidentally too, the colours of the caps seemed to replicate those of traditional kente cloths. In effect the process was subverting the stereotype of metal as a stiff, rigid medium and rather showing it as a soft, pliable, almost sensuous material capable of attaining immense dimensions and being adapted to specific spaces.

To me, the bottle tops encapsulate the essence of the alcoholic drinks which were brought to Africa by Europeans as trade items at the time of the earliest contact between the two peoples. Almost all the brands I use are locally distilled. I now source the caps from distillers around Nsukka, where I live and work. I don’t see what I do as recycling; I transform the caps into something else. If there is a direct link between the bottle tops and the fabric cloths, it is probably the fact that they all have names linked to events, people, historical or current issues. Take Ecomog gin: this refers to the regional military intervention force which brought the wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia to an end. The brandy called Ebeano (meaning ‘where we are now’) references a popular electioneering slogan from the last political polls in the state in which I live. Similarly kente cloths are given names like takpekpe le Anloga (conference at Anloga) or can be named after a personality. Fading cloth is more of a formalistic name, with the full blooded reds at the top and bottom of the cloth yielding to creams and other pale colours in the centre. Flattening and stitching the caps is laborious and repetitive – a very different process to my earlier work using power tools on wood. I have several assistants working with me, and we start with strips and eventually assemble them into the final composite results. The process of stitching, especially the repetitive aspect, slows down action and I believe makes thinking deeper. It’s like the effect of a good mantra on the mind”

“When something is used by people, it has a history. It has a story. It has something behind it. I think that fact lends a lot of meaning to whatever you are doing with [it].”

One of Africa’s most acclaimed contemporary artists on the international scene, El Anatsui was born in Anyako Ghana in 1944. He trained as a sculptor at the College of Art, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana (1965–68). Since 1975, he has been a professor of sculpture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he still lives.

Known for his innovative wood panel sculptures in which he has focused on themes relating to African history and colonial experience, using marks made by the chainsaw and oxyacetylene flame and traditional sign systems including Uli motifs and Adrinka symbols, his wood sculptures were seen as metaphors for the destruction of African indigenous cultures by colonialism and its aftermath, suggesting a critical connection between slavery and colonialism on the one hand, and on the other, the disappearance of African visual and textual archives, and the loss of historical memory in the age of post colonialism.

But it is for his monumental ‘metal cloths’ that he has achieved worldwide accolades and recognition. His uses metals—aluminium strips from liqueur bottle caps, rusty metal graters, old offset printing plates, and evaporated milk cans—to create large-scale, wall-bound and freestanding metal installations with colossal visual power.

El Anatsui has exhibited his work around the world, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, 52nd Venice Biennale, Hayward Gallery and Centro de Cultura Contemporania Barcelona. A retrospective of his work, titled When I Last Wrote to You About Africa opened at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada in October 2010 and will be touring North America for the next 3 years.

Anatsui is also premiering a solo exhibition in Japan titled "A Fateful Journey: Africa in the Works of El Anatsui." This exhibition premiered at Minpaku, the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka and is now at the Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, Hayama until March 27, 2011, when it will tour to the Art Forum, Tsuruoka and Saitama Prefectural Museum of Modern Art from July −August, 2011.



El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote To You About Africa, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, touring to Museum for African Art, Long Island City, NY; University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI;Denver Art Museum, CO; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC   2010 - 2012
El Anatsui, Rice Gallery, Houston, TX, El Anatsui, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York   2010
El Anatsui, Belger Arts Center, Kansas City, Missouri   2009
El Anatsui: Gawu, National Museum for African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC   2008
Earth Growing Roots, University Art Gallery, San Diego State University, California, USA   2008
Asi, David Krut Projects, New York. Nyekor, Spazio Rossana Orlandi, Milan, Italy   2006
Danudo, Skoto Gallery, New York and Contemporary African Art Gallery, New York.   2005
Gawu, Oriel Mostyn Gallery, Llandudno, Wales, UK, an Oriel Mostyn Gallery Exhibition, touring to: Model Arts & Niland Gallery, Sligo, Republic of Ireland, Gallery Oldham, Oldham, England, UK, Djanogly Gallery, University of Nottingham, UK and the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA.   2003-2008
El Anatsui: New Works, October Gallery, London, UK.   2002
A Sculpted History of Africa, October Gallery, London, UK.   1998
Hakpa, French Cultural Centre, Lagos, Nigeria.   1997
El Anatsui, October Gallery, London, UK.   1995
Old and New: An exhibition of Sculpture in Assorted Wood, The National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria.   1991
Venovize: Ceramic Sculptures, Faculty of Art and Design Gallery, Cornwall College, Redruth, UK. Pieces of Wood: Mural Sculpture, The Franco-German Auditorium, Lagos, Nigeria.   1987
Sculptures, Photographs, Drawings, Goethe Institute, Lagos, Nigeria.   1982
Wood Sculptures, Cummington Community of Arts, Cummington, Mass, USA.   1980
Broken Pots: Sculpture by El Anatsui, British Council, Enugu and the Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.   1979
Wooden Wall Plaques, Asele Art Gallery, Nsukka, Nigeria.   1976


Who Knows Tomorrow, Nationalgalerie, Berlin Human Rites, Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, FL   2010
Transvangarde, October Gallery, London Moscow Biennale Extreme Frontiers, Urban Frontiers, Institut Valencia D’Art Modern, Valencia, Spain   2009
The Poetics of Cloth: African Textiles, Grey Art Gallery, NY The Essential Art of African Textiles: Design without End, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary, Museum for Arts and Design, NY World Histories, Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa Angaza Afrika, October Gallery, London, UK Tapping Currents: Contemporary African Art and Diaspora, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO   2008
Altered, Stitched and Gathered, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island, New York. 8th Sharjah Biennale, Sharjah United Arab Emirates. Artempo: Where Time Becomes Art, Palazzo Fortuny, Venice, Italy. 52nd Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy. (Un)fair Trade, Neue Galerie, Graz, and Laudesmuseum Joanneum Austria. Uncomfortable Truths, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.   2007
The Missing Peace: Artists Consider the Dalai Lama, Fowler Museum, University of California, Los Angeles, Black Panther Rank and File, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, USA Dakar Biennale, Dakar, Senegal.   2008
Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, South Korea.   2004
Afrika Remix, Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf, Germany, touring to: the Hayward Gallery, London, UK; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris France and Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan.   2004-2007
Biennale de Ceramica dell’ Arte Contemporanea, Villa Groppallo, Vado Ligure, Italy. Transferts, Palais de Beaux Arts, Brussels, Belgium.   2003
Encounters with the Contemporary, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC, USA. The Happy Face of Globalisation, The 1st Albissola Ceramics Biennale, Museo Civico d’Arte Contemporanea and Museo della Ceramica Manlio Trucco, Albissola, Italy, touring to Musée Ariana, Geneva, Switzerland. Africas: The Artist and the City, Centro de Cultura Contemporania Barcelona (CCCB), Barcelona, Spain.   2001-2002
El Tiempo de Africa (Africa’s Time), Centro Atlántico Arte Moderno, La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain. Messagers de la Terre, Rur’Art-Espace d’Art Contemporain d’Lycée Agricole Xavier Bernard, Rouille, France.   2000
New Colours From Old Worlds: Contemporary Art from West Africa, October Gallery, London, UK. Les Champs de la Sculpture, presented by the City of Paris and organised by the Paris Cultural Affairs Department, Champs Elysées, Paris, France. Contemporary Art from West Africa, October Gallery, London UK.   1999
7th Triennial of Small Sculpture, Stüttgart, Germany. Riddle of the Spirits – Twelve African Artists, Skoto Gallery, New York, USA. 9th Osaka Sculpture Triennial, Osaka, Japan.   1998
The Poetics of Line-Seven Artists of the Nsukka Group, The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC, USA.   1997
Transvangarde, October Gallery, London UK. Africana, Sala 1, Rome, Italy. Transforms, October Gallery, London UK. Group Exhibition, Avant-Garde Gallery, Kaduna, Nigeria.   1996
Aka ’95, Bona Gallery, Enugu and Didi Museum, Lagos, Nigeria. 8th Osaka Sculpture Triennale, Osaka, Japan. Contemporary African Art, World Intellectual Property Organisation Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland. Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, The Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, UK. An Inside Story-African Art of our Time, Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo and Touring to the Tokushima Modern Art Museum, Tokushima; Himeji City Museum of Arts, Himej; Koriyama City Museum of Art, Koriyama; Marugame Inokuma-Genichiro Museum of Contemporary Art; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu, Japan. Art In The Shadow, The Nigerian Pavillion at Africus-1st Johannesburg Biennale, Johannesburg, South Africa.   1995
5th Havana Biennale, Havana, Cuba.   1994
Six African Artists, October Gallery, London UK.   1993
Begegnung mit den Anderen, University of Kassel, Kassel, Germany. Arte Amazonas, Modern Art Museum, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, touring as Klima Global to Staatliche Kunsthalle, Berlin and Ludwig Forum, Aachen, Germany.   1992
Aka ’91, Bona Gallery, Enugu and Goethe Institut, Lagos, Nigeria. Works by a Group of African Artists, The World Bank Art Society Gallery, World Bank Headquarters, Washington DC, USA. South of the World, Galleria d’Arte Contemporanea, Marsala, Italy.   1991
The Calabash 1st Exhibition, The Calabash, Lagos, Nigeria. Five Contemporary African Artists, 44th Venice Biennial, Venice, Italy. Contemporary African Artists-A Changing Tradition, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Achebe Celebration Exhibition, Continuing Education Centre, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria.   1990
Aka ’88, Nigerian Union of Journalists’ Press Centre, Enugu; Institute of African Studies, Nsukka and the National Gallery of Crafts and Design, Lagos, Nigeria.   1988
Original Prints from the 3rd Nsukka Workshop, University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Goethe Institut, Lagos, Nigeria.   1987
Nigerian-German Prints, University of Nigeria, Nsukka and the Franco-German Auditorium, Lagos, Nigeria. Aka ’86-Inaugural Exhibition of the Aka Circle of Artists, the French Centre, Enugu and Goethe Institut, Lagos, Nigeria.   1986
Four Contemporary African Artists, Mintec Gallery, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.   1983
Drawing on the World, Billingham Art Gallery, Billingham; Middlesborough Art Gallery, Middlesborough and the House of Commons Gallery, Westminster, London, UK.   1981
Christian Arts in Nigeria, Holy Trinity Cathedral Hall, Onitsha, Nigeria. The Nsukka School, Art Gallery of the Rivers State Council for Arts and Culture, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.   1979
Fabric Wall Hangings, Burnt Wooden Wall Plaques, The Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria.   1975
Tekarts Expo 5, National Arts Centre, Accra, Ghana.   1994
Royal College of Art Printmaking Portfolio 1993 Angela Flowers Gallery, London   1974


The Big 4 Project, Channel 4 Building, London. UK   2008
Resident Faculty, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan Maine, USA.   2007
Out There, Sainsburgh Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich UK.   2005
Residency, Civitella Ranieri Centre, Umbertide, Italy.   2001
Cyfuniad International Artist’s Residency, Plas Caerdeon, Barmouth, Wales, UK   1999
International Visitor, The Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC, USA. Ondambo-International Forum for African Artists, Windhoek, Namibia.   1997
Visiting Artist, International People’s College. Helsingør and Copenhagen, Denmark.   1996
International Visitors Programme, USA.   1993
Visiting Artist, Cornwall College, Redruth, UK.   1985
World Council Member, International Society for Education through Art (INSEA).   1982-1985
Artist-in-Residence, Cummington Community of Arts, Massachusetts, USA.   1980


New Energies: Recent Graduate Artists from Nsukka, Mydrim and Nimbus Galleries Lagos, Nigeria.   2001
Promoter of Nigerian Art Series, Goethe Institut, Lagos, Nigeria.   1999


Fellow, Civitela Ranieri Center, Umbertide, Italy   2001
Founding Member and Fellow, Forum for African Arts. Member, International Selection Committee, Dakar Biennale, Dakar, Senegal.   2000
The Public’s Prize, 7th Triennale der Kleinplastik, Stüüttgart, Germany.   1999
Bronze Prize, 9th Osaka Sculpture Triennale, Osaka, Japan.   1998
Kansai Telecasting Corporation Prize, 3rd Osaka Sculpture Triennale, Osaka, Japan.   1995
Honorable Mention, 44th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy.   1990
Best Student of the Year, College of Art, University of Science and Technology, Kumasi Ghana.   1969
Honorable Mention, First Ghana National Art Competition, Accra, Ghana.   1968


African Studies Gallery, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria    
Musée Ariana, Geneva, Switzerland.    
The British Museum, London, UK.    
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC. USA    
Diamond Bank of Nigeria, Victoria Island,    
Ghana National Art Collection, Accra, Ghana.    
International Peoples’ College, Helsingør, Denmark.    
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA    
Museum of Art, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA.    
Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA    
Iwalewa-Haus, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany.    
The National Gallery of Contemporary Art, Lagos, Nigeria.    
The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC, USA.    
Osaka Foundation of Culture, Osaka, Japan.    
Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan.    
The World Bank Art Collection, Washington DC, USA.    
De Young Museum, San Francisco, USA.    
Pompidou Centre, Paris, France.    
Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf, Germany    
Missoni, Milan, Italy.    
UNAIDS, Geneva, Switzerland.    
Fowler Museum, University of California, Los Angeles, USA.    
Jordan National Gallery of Art, Amman, Jordan    


Professor of Sculpture, Fine and Applied Arts Department, University of Nigeria, Nsukka   1996-present
Head of Department, Fine and Applied Arts Department, University of Nigeria, Nsukka   1998-2000
Senior Lecturer, Fine and Applied Arts Department, University of Nigeria, Nsukka   1982-1996
Lecturer, Fine and Applied Arts Department, University of Nigeria, Nsukka   1975-1982
Lecturer, Art Education Department, Specialist Training College, Winneba, Ghana.   1969-1975


Fold, Crumple, Crush: The Art of El Anatsui, Susan Vogel, Prince Street Pictures Eli Broad’s collection featuring ‘Strips of Earth’s Skin, 2008,’ CNN   2010
Ondambo, Arandis, Namibia. West Africa: Art and Identities, Nick Levinson and Catherine King, BBC Open University, London, UK.   1998
Arte Amazonas, John Arden, Rio de Janerio, Brazil   1992
XLIV Expositione Internationale d’Arte: La Biennale di Venezia, Studio Mestiere Cinema, Venice, Italy Kindred Spirits: Contemporary Nigerian Artists, Smithsonian World, Washington DC   1990


Philip L. Ravenhill Fellowship, (UCLA); Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.   2010
Ghana Cultural Fund Award for the publication of Ph.D. thesis: Kumasi Realism, 1951-2007: An African Modernism. 1st Thoyer Distinguished Visiting Scholar, New York University.   2009
Artist in Residence, Howard University Art Department, Washington, D.C.   2000
Artist in Residence 2nd Lake, Naivasha International Artists Residencies, Kenya   1999
Artist in Residence Fordsburg, Artists Studios, Johannesburg, South Africa   1997
Commonwealth Foundation, Fellowship (African Region)   1991