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El Anatsui’s Commissioned Masterpiece Unveiled at Tate Modern

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El Anatsui, the renowned Ghanaian artist, has just unveiled his latest masterpiece in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. The masterpiece showcases his distinctive artistry using recycled bottle tops. Born in Anyako, Ghana, in 1944, Anatsui has seamlessly blended local traditions with global abstract art. Moreover, his art touches on profound societal concerns, crafting massive metallic sculptures from recycled bottle tops from local recycling stations. His creations represent aesthetic beauty and delve into complex themes surrounding consumption, national identity, and trade.

Anatsui’s Behind the Red Moon in the Turbine Hall. Image courtesy of The Art Newspaper

Having spent most of his career in Nigeria as an artist and professor, El Anatsui’s innovative approach to sculpture encompasses various materials. They include wood, ceramics, and found objects. In 2015, the art world recognized his remarkable journey by awarding him the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the 56th Venice Biennale. Anatsui’s Hyundai Commission for Tate, titled “Behind the Red Moon,” currently graces the October Gallery in London alongside his new works.

An installation view of Behind the Red Moon, El Anatsui’s Hyundai Commission in the Turbine HallPhoto
Image courtesy of Tate (Joe Humphrys)

Reflecting on his artistic process, El Anatsui reveals his inspiration for the Tate installation. He traces back to the name “Tate,” which evoked memories of the colonial era. Despite space constraints forcing adjustments to his initial plan of replicating a portion of a slave castle chapel, he persisted in focusing on bottle caps. Besides their environmental significance, these caps carry hidden historical and social connotations. The names of drink brands imprinted on the caps reflect a profound sociopolitical commentary. This connects to events like the transatlantic slave trade and regional conflicts.

A detail of Anatsui’s AG + BA (2014). The colourful bottle tops used in his signature works have layers of environmental and socio-political meaning. Image courtesy of The Art Newspaper

Anatsui’s artistry also mirrors his profound respect for the environment. His choice to work with repurposed materials stems from the belief that used items carry a unique energy. Moreover, it resonates with those who once touched and utilized them. His bottle cap works, ranging from monochrome to translucent, are a harmonious blend of sculpture and painting, inviting viewers to explore the layers of meaning and history embedded within each element.

In the realm of Anatsui’s creations, freedom plays a pivotal role. By allowing curators and viewers to interpret his works, he encourages a sense of artistic liberation, fostering imagination and creativity. Through his art, Anatsui captivates the audience with his glittering, fabric-like hangings and inspires them to reflect on the intricate threads connecting art, history, and human experience.

Author

Rose Mwikali Musyoki is a creative writer from Nairobi, Kenya. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Business and Finance from the University of Embu, Kenya, and is the founder of Bloom Inc, an art startup in Kenya. Currently, she works as a writer for Art News Africa.

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