El Anatsui review: From Nigeria to London, celebrated artist brings complex creations to October Gallery

By Chelsea Garner-Ferris | 13 February 2016 | Updated: 11 February 2016

Ghanain master alchemist El Anatsui counts tropical woods and railway sleepers among his materials. His new exhibition, at London’s October Gallery, is a rare opportunity to see works by this artistic sage

El Anatsui, Dzi II (2015)© Kunstbanken
Marking an impressive 37 years of operation, the October Gallery in Holborn is currently exhibiting several new wall-hangings by celebrated Ghanaian artist, El Anatsui. Spread over the gallery’s two large spaces, the exhibition comprises six large, bottle-top ‘fabric’ installations.

These works are incredibly complex: layer upon layer of vibrant colour and texture, interwoven and stitched together like a beautifully complex, patchwork quilt. Made up of thousands of bottle tops, shiny aluminium pieces and copper wire, the artist claims that he works with “what nature has discarded.”

Warrior (2015)© Kunstbanken
The series of bottle top tapestries were conceived before, and first exhibited in 2002. But the particular works on show here have never been displayed before.  Working with the artist since 1993, Elisabeth Lalouschek, the Artistic Director at the gallery, describes El Anatsui as a “master alchemist” and “maker of freedom”.

Working alongside a small team at his studio in Nigeria (you can watch a short film clip of the artist in his studio as part of the exhibition), the artist, professor and lecturer has gained astounding international recognition for his artistic comment on social, political and historical issues, as well as environmental and sustainability concerns.

Breaking News (2015)© Kunstbanken
Utilising found and disposed objects, his previous works have been made from railway sleepers, power tools, metals and tropical woods. Lalouschek also states that he is an “artist for the people” – that his desire is to engage and communicate with everyone through his work.

Acquired by prestigious institutions worldwide, El Anatsui’s work can be found in the collections of the British Museum, Paris’s Pompidou Centre, the Smithsonian Institution, the de Young Museum and the Kunst Palast in Düsseldorf, to name a few.

Focus (2015)© Kunstbanken
He has produced impressive, monumental installations at the 2007 Venice Biennale and the Royal Academy in 2013, was recently awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement Award at the 56th Venice Biennale and is currently waiting to unveil a new hanging work at the El Badi Palace in Marrakech, opening at the end of February.

“The amazing thing about working with these metallic ‘fabrics’ is that the poverty of the materials used in no way precludes the telling of rich and wonderful stories,” El Anatsui has said in an interview with the gallery. It is a rare opportunity to be able to see such magnificent artworks by an internationally acclaimed artist outside of a museum or private collection.

  • El Anatsui: New Works is at the October Gallery, London until April 2 2016. Follow the gallery on Twitter @OctoberLondon.

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