February 29, 2016

By Louisa Elderton, 19 FEB 2016

The Ghanaian artist El Anatsui is best known for his transformative approach to materials, repurposing bottle tops, milk tins, wood, aluminium printing plates and tin boxes into sculptures, ceramics, tapestries, carvings and large-scale installations. Carriageworks’ survey traverses five decades of work that uses recycling as an aesthetic principle to navigate aspects of post-colonial African culture and politics – from trade histories to corruption and consumption – and, with the inclusion of over 30 works, broadened the picture beyond the artist’s more familiar bottle-top tapestries.

Carriageworks has recently expanded to incorporate the space previously occupied by Anna Schwartz Gallery; Anatsui’s works took over the floor and walls of the two vast rooms. A large-scale installation, Tiled Flower Garden (2012) – created from red, yellow and black bottle tops, flattened, concertinaed and woven together – spread out across the floor of the main space. It undulates like a landscape or, perhaps more ominously, a textured skin shed by a vast snake-like animal. Opposite, the wall-mountedAdinkra Sasa (2003) – shimmering black bands interspersed with yellow, bronze and duck-egg blue stripes – was also constructed from aluminium bottle tops; it’s part of an important group of eleven works that comprises the ‘Gawu’ series (2001–4). Adinkra Sasa is a phrase in Anatsui’s language, Ewe, and has several potential meanings including ‘metal’ and ‘a fashioned cloak’; ‘adrinka’ is the name of the dyed cloth stamped with symbols made by the Akan people of Ghana and worn during periods of mourning.

Anatsui’s father was a renowned weaver and the artist’s initial exposure to art was through traditional African patterns and fabrics. It was at art school in Ghana when he realized that his interests lay more in the origins of these patterns and the meanings conveyed through their making, than in how to make the fabric. Interested in using what Anatsui describes as a ‘language from home […] from my own culture and environment’, the artist has played a major role in the re-addressing of a Western-centric art canon that deemed abstraction a primarily American or European endeavour.