Wednesday 16 November 2011


Abroad, El-Anatsui moulds Big 4, Gawu
By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published Tuesday, August 05, 2008)  
 THE last few months have been quite eventful for the multi media and installation art guru, Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui, in the U.K and U.S.
  In the U.S, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka-based art Professor's tour exhibition of his first solo in that part of the world, Gawu continues at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC. The tour took off last year at Fowler Museum, University of California, UCLA, Los Angeles.
   Last May, Anatsui emerged as the third artist recorded on London's Channel 4 sculptural work known as The Big 4, an installation that brings the '4' logo to life on the steps of the channel's Horse ferry Road headquarters.
  After it's opening recently, the artist's new body of work, Gawu, which has on display his usual mural size works comes to a close on September 7, 2008 at the Smithsonian's National Museum. The exhibition, in the last one-year has been on tour of Europe, Asia and is currently in North America.
   According to the Washington DC-based museum, Anatsui's Gawu is an Oriel Mostyn Gallery touring exhibition and supported by the Arts Council of Wales. Additional funding, the organiers stated, was provided by Wales Arts International while the Fowler Museum and Oriel Mostyn provided the other intellectual materials for the show.
The title of the show, Gawu, Anatsui explained, is derived from his native language, Ewe. "Gawu has several meanings, including metal and a fashioned cloak."
    Even though a greater part of the works were familiar, the artist, since 2007 when the show opened in the U.S, had injected some fresh flavour as he was actively involved in mounting of the works; draping the cloth-like pieces and re arranging the components. This, to a large extent, it's been observed, has brought new meaning to this body of work.
   One of the exhibits, Many Moons, Anatsui said, refers to time and the tradition in West Africa of marking the identity of a village by the day of its weekly market.

Versatility (aluminum and copper wire, 2008) c/o Fowler Museum

   Others like Peak Project made of tin and copper wire, Wastepaper Bag, Adinkra Sasa and the recent, Blue Moon from aluminium plates and copper wire, all private collections of the artist made the event.
   these included collections from Audrey and David Mirvish, Toronto, Canada; Ilene and Stanley Gold Collection; Miriam Wosk Collection, Los Angeles; Fowler Museum,'s Crumbling Wall, steel sheets; Skin of Earth, aluminum and copper wire, Versatility, aluminum and copper wire, respectively.
   Some of the works on exhibition also made the recent big gathering of African artists, Africa Remix held from 2004 to 2007 in five cities of Dsseldorf, London, Paris, Tokyo and Stockholm.
  Anatsui may be spending a greater part of his career in his adopted country, Nigeria, his native Ewe in Ghana plays a major factor in the evolution of his art, particularly on the metal fabric and other installation works of his.
   The inspiration, he stated, comes from the popular Ghanaian fabric, Kente, a strip-woven cloth of the Asante and Ewe peoples of Ghana and Togo. Anatsui explained: "It is a festive dress for special occasions-traditionally worn by men as a kind of toga and by women as an upper and lower wrapper." In one of the exhibits, Adinkra he pays tribute to a native art of the same title. Adinkra, he stressed, is a system of graphic symbols that appear as two-dimensional designs on dyed and stamped textiles and as three-dimensional motifs ornamenting carved and cast objects, including jewelry. "Dark-colored Adinkra cloths are funeral attires, while those of brighter hues may be worn on other special occasions. Both Kente and Adinkra patterns communicate cultural and philosophical meanings, social codes of conduct, religious beliefs, political thought and aesthetic principles. On a global level, Kente cloth has become an overriding symbol for African-ness."
El-Anatsui's Big 4

    Part of the artist's statement for the show revealed that his father and brothers' weaving of the native fabric eventually played out on him as influence of family and cultural history. He said: "I have discovered only much later that cloth has been a recurring theme or leitmotif, and it is featured in so many dimensions."
   And the Nigerian factor blew up the artist's immense and hidden talents as he depicts these cloths, using discarded containers from local Nigerian brands of whiskey, rum, vodka, brandy in labels such as Chairman, Dark Sailor, King Solomon, Makossa, 007, Top Squad and Ecomog.
  A founding member of Pan-African Circle of Artists (PACA), Anatsui's involvement in the public sculpture of the Big 4 offers another lesson in how to make art part of public life.
His version of The Big 4 logo is a 50 foot medium of newspaper and magazine printing plate. On the work, Anatsui said: "When about to discard old newspapers, I have noticed that most people begin to read the articles they come across. It is as if the speed in which they are flung at us is so great, and the need to process the information so urgent, that we wished for a little more time to digest. And these stolen moments begin to satisfy that longing."
   According to Channel 4, plates for the projects were contributed by: St Ives Web Division, Trinity Mirror Plc and The Independent newspaper.

Adinkra Sasa
Aluminum and copper wire, fabric

   The 50-foot-high metal '4' was constructed to celebrate both the Channel's 25th anniversary year and the launch of the corporate support community program, Big Art Project.
   Launched last year, the installation project is of metal bars forming the logo only when viewed from a particular angle.
   Earlier, photographer, Nick Knight and Turner Prize nominee, Mark Titchner, adapted The Big 4. In the Knight's work, Heart, with sound designed by Nick Ryan, involved biconvex screens carrying images of skin and musculature, giving the impression that the structure was gently breathing as you moved around it. Titchner's work, Find Our World in Yours, allowed the public to record their own thoughts and feelings about the media, with edited footage played back on video monitors mounted on the structure.
   For the station, Channel 4, this is one social responsibility to get the community involved in the business of TV broadcast. The management explained: "It's a first from Channel 4: an opportunity for the public to be at the centre of a unique initiative right where they are living and become a central character in a prime-time television series."
   The station recalled that from inception of the project in October 2005, it asked the nation to get involved in the Big Art Project. The response, they added was overwhelming; "over 1,400 members of the public across the UK said they wanted some art for their communities and proposed a site."

   For artists and interested groups in this part of the world, such public art is possible if one has to learn from the selection process of The Big 4 project. Criteria, it was revealed, were based on planning and political support as well as aesthetics. These included educational potential; funding availability; the range of art that might be possible; enthusiasm and flexibility of the nominating community; target within the time-frame; the potential to maximise public access to the commissioning process and the final art work.
Perhaps a better way to make the best of every situation to create art conscious public is to borrow a word from the artist's statement. Anatsui stated during one of his shows: "Art grows out of each particular situation, and I believe that artists are better off working with whatever their environment throws up."
    Anatsui was born 1944 in Anyako, Ghana. He earned a Bachelor's Degree in Sculpture and a Postgraduate Diploma in Art Education from the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana.
He has been teaching art at Nsukka since 1975. The artist exhibited at the 1990 Venice Biennale, where he received an honorable mention and was included in the Johannesburg Biennale in 1995 as well as the Gwanju Bienniale, Gwanju, South Korea, 2004.

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