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Something New Out Of Africa: El Anatsui
A Ghanaian sculptor links the history of the liquor trade between Africa and the Americas through his unconventional art pieces on display at the Brooklyn Museum

It is a pivotal and moving moment for Nigeria and the Brooklyn Museum as a pioneer of abstract art, El Anatsui, displays more than thirty works at his exhibit titled Gravity and Grace. Anatsui’s work experiments with locally found materials such as Nigeria’s street trash. Anatsui looks to relate these ordinarily found objects (rum liquor-bottle caps, wood, condensed milk cans) to art and global themes.

Anatsui’s experiments with found materials began with wood. By transforming discarded wood into his own art piece, the artist developed an interest in objects whose surface reflected a history of use and human interaction. Continuing on this fascinating path, Anatsui discovered a discarded bag of aluminum liquor-bottle tops which inspired him to explore their potential. He realized Nigerian distilleries of rum, brandy, gin and whiskey typically clean and reuse bottles but discard the metal tops. The artist now purchases these discarded elements for use in his studio. The small metal tops, along with their bright colors and distinct logos, allow Anatsui to combine them in an endless palette and epic arrangement that resembles a mural. “These are bottle caps being uplifted from mere bottle caps to an object of contemplation. As an artist working in Nigeria, I work with materials in my environment. You have to make art with whatever is around you,” says Anatsui.

Anatsui is an avid sculptor of the “nonfixed form,” an artwork which illustrates the principles of freedom and movement. In Anatsui’s opinion, working with a cheaper medium and used objects allows the artist to be freer. “Drinks were a main export between my continent Africa, Europe and the Americas. All these bottle caps woven together to create a sort of cloth or textile also reveals a lot of sociology and history between the places,” says Anatsui. Anatsui’s compositions abandon both paint and flat surfaces, which have hailed critics to refer to his work as something new out of Africa.

Some noted pieces include Drifting Continents, a metal wall hanging made of linked screw-top liquor bottle caps and PEAK, a floor sculpture madeout of condensed milk lids. All art pieces are made in El Anatsui’s studio with the help of his assistants, sometimes by assembling the bottle caps in a line and then crushing them. This extraordinary exhibition is on display now through August 4th, 2013 at the Brooklyn Museum.