Danudo : Recent Sculptures of El Anatsui
Reception: Thursday October 27th, 5-8pm


Skoto Gallery (in collaboration with Contemporary African Art Gallery, New York) is pleased to present Danudo: Recent Sculptures of El Anatsui. This will be his first two-venue solo show in New York since his highly acclaimed exhibition with the American artist Sol LeWitt at Skoto Gallery in 1996. A reception for the artist is scheduled for Thursday, October 27th, 5-8pm.
Sculptor El Anatsui is one of Africa’s most significant contemporary artists whose work maintains an ambitious breadth of vision that consistently speaks to the reality of Africa’s existence. To this reality, he adds further layers of meaning, fed by his awareness of the culture and history of the African continent, an awareness evolved over years of restless intellectual and artistic enquiry. There is an allusion to a preoccupation with both tradition and change in his work, along with a strong sensitivity to his material’s physical expressiveness and their cultural implications as he employs common idioms and grammar of contemporary Western art at the same time as he actively undermines them by introducing ideas, techniques and material from never yet subjugated areas that lie far beyond the pale of Western art.
The exhibition will include seven of his new « cloth » series in which hundreds of aluminum liquor bottle tops are flattened and sewn together with copper wire to form large-scale textile inspired works that are evocative of form and meaning. In this body of work, detritus are combined with formal grace and randomness with order modeled on the color and patterning of West African strip-woven cloth. Unlike his earlier work, which are highly complex and powerfully integrated wall sculpture made from strips of various African woods in which images and motifs from diverse backgrounds such as Akan, Adinkra, Igbo, Uli, Nsibidi and Ejaghem syllabaries are incised with a chain saw and blow torch, these « metal cloths » delve deeper into the formal roots of sculpture. Wall-oriented and frontal, they are personal and monumental, tactile and seductive in their glorious opulence.
Artist’s Statement on Material and Process 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 the 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 colors of the caps seemed to replicate those of traditional kente cloth. 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 encapsulates 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 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 forces 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.
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.
In Nigeria local distilleries produce dozens of brands of spirits in bottles of various sizes, which are recycled after use. The brands recycle each others’bottles interchangeably, but discard the old aluminum tops and paper labels in the process. Brands of whisky, gin, rum, vodka. schnapps, tonic wine and brandy found around Nsukka include Bull, Bakassi, Concord, Chairman, Chelsea, Canon, Dark Sailor, Ebeano, Ecomog, Finlays, Gall, Jonathan, KP, King Edward, King Davis, King Solomon, KingSize, Mac Lord, Makossa, Napoleon, Nathus, Nobleman, Nixson, Ozde, 007, One-Man Squad, Poncho Picolo, Squadron, Top Squad etc
El Anatsui
Nsukka, Nigeria 2005

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