El Anatsui / Meyina / 2017

El Anatsui 25 November - 20 December 2017 Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

Goodman Gallery Johannesburg
25 November – 20 December 2017

Curated by Bisi Silva
Opening Saturday 25 November at 11:00 with opening remarks by the curator

Meyina marks the first solo exhibition of El Anatsui – one of the most influential contemporary artists working today – in South Africa.

Over the past four decades, Anatsui has created a vast body of work that has expanded the language of contemporary sculpture in Africa and around the world. Meyina (meaning ‘I am going’ in Ewe) is curated by Bisi Silva (Director at the Centre for Contemporary Art Lagos) and presents a portrait of the artist by bringing together disparate fragments that form a whole.

The seven large-scale sculptural installations, which read like intricate tapestries, are composed of thousands of crumpled pieces of metal sourced from local alcohol recycling stations and bound together with copper wire. Exploring the notion of a limitless horizon, the works are simultaneously luminous and weighty, meticulously fabricated yet malleable. They engage with African histories as well as post-colonial conditions found in shared daily experiences on the continent.

Alongside these major works is a collection of archival objects on exhibit – selected by Silva from Anatsui’s studio, study and library in Nsukka, Nigeria. These objects include letters, exhibition planning documents; books Anatsui reads and is featured in; as well as articles written on his practice and exhibition publications (especially on Nigerian artists) to which Anatsui has contributed.

Paraphrasing Ghanaian author Koffi Amyidoho, Anatsui describes his process in poetic terms: ‘When I am in the studio it is as if the sky bends down to have a word with the earth.’

For Silva: ‘it is always an honour to have the opportunity to work again with El Anatsui […] With his scintillating sculptural installations, over the past few decades he has been able to articulate his interest in and study of African History and its post-colonial identity. In this exhibition, I hope to highlight aspects of his artistic practice as well as his professional career as a university professor and its impact on several generations of artists, curators and writers from Nigeria, West Africa and across the continent.’

El Anatsui was born in Ghana in 1944 and has lived and worked in Nsukka, Nigeria, since 1975. This year, Anatsui was awarded the prestigious Praemium Imperiale Award for Sculpture; in 2016 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Cape Town; in 2015 he received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement Award at the 56th International Art Exhibition of the Biennale di Venezia – All the World’s Futures; in 2014, he was made an Honorary Royal Academician and elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and, in 2009, Anatsui received the Prince Claus Award.

Anatsui’s work has featured in many international exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale in 1990 and 2007, the Paris Triennial in 2012 and most recently Marrakech Biennale 6: Not New Now, Morocco (2016) and Atopolis: WIELS @ Mons 2015, Manège de Sury, Belgium, among others. He is emeritus Professor of Sculpture at the Department of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he has taught for over thirty years. Anatsui’s work is included in various public collections, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the British Museum in London.

Meyina was first realised at the Prince Claus Gallery in Amsterdam, which ran until April 2017.



El Anatsui

El Anatsui (b. 1944, Ghana) is an internationally acclaimed artist who transforms simple materials into complex assemblages that create distinctive visual impact. Anatsui uses resources typically discarded such as liquor bottle caps and cassava graters to create sculptures that defy categorisation. Anatsui’s use of these materials reflects his interest in reuse, transformation, and an intrinsic desire to connect to his continent while transcending the limitations of place. His work interrogates the history of colonialism and draws connections between consumption, waste and the environment. But at the core of Anatsui’s work is his unique formal language that distinguishes his practice.

Anatsui is well-known for large scale sculptures composed of thousands of folded and crumpled pieces of metal sourced from local alcohol recycling stations and bound together with copper wire. These intricate works, which can grow to be massive in scale, are both luminous and weighty, meticulously fabricated yet malleable. He leaves the installations open and encourages the works to take different forms every time they are installed.

In 2015, Anatsui was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, the Venice Biennale’s highest honour. Anatsui’s solo exhibition Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui, was organized by the Akron Art Museum, Akron, Ohio (2012), and travelled to the Brooklyn Museum, New York and the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa (2013); then to the Bass Museum of Art in Miami, Florida (2014); and concluded at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, California (2015). In 2019, El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale, a major career survey curated by Okwui Enwezor, opened at Haus der Kunst and travelled to Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Kunstmuseum Bern and Guggenheim Bilbao in 2020.

Anatsui currently lives and works between Ghana and Nigeria.