Career Retrospective of Important African Artist El Anatsui Comes to The Blanton for Only Showing in the Southwest

The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin will serve as the only southwest venue for "El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa," a major retrospective of internationally renowned artist El Anatsui organized by the Museum for African Art in New York City.

On view Sept. 25, 2011 Jan. 22, 2012, the exhibition spans four decades and includes about 60 works drawn from public and private collections internationally.

"We are thrilled to present to our varied audiences this career survey of the work of El Anatsui, one of the preeminent artists of his generation and an eloquent voice of reflection on West Africa and its place within global histories. Anatsui makes work that is incomparably rich in associations and meanings, yet also accessible," Simone Wicha, The Blanton's director said. "Inventive, witty, and in many cases sumptuously beautiful, the works have earned Anatsui worldwide acclaim. The Blanton will be encouraging K-12 and university students, as well as museum members and our public from throughout the region, to take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity to see and engage with these marvelous works."

The Ghanaian-born El Anatsui, who lives and works in Nigeria, is recognized as one of the most original and compelling artists of his generation. Widely known for his shimmering wall sculptures made of thousands of discarded bottle tops, Anatsui has made a career out of transforming discarded materials into forceful visual statements that refer to global, local and personal histories. The exhibition, curated by Lisa Binder, curator at the Museum for African Art, New York, features several of these acclaimed sculptures, as well as earlier works in wood, ceramic, and metal, and a number of rare drawings, prints and paintings.

In the 1970s, Anatsui began to manipulate broken ceramic fragments. With their allusions to ancient Nok terracotta sculptures, West African myths about the earth, and cultural references to the use of clay, the ceramic works piece together shattered and devalued histories to form a resplendent new whole. In the same decade, he also made sculptures that recombined signs and symbols from various African cultures and languages in potent 3D forms created by chopping, carving, burning and etching wood.

Anatsui made a crucial shift in the 1990s, from working with hand tools to carving with a power saw, which enabled him to cut through blocks of wood, leaving a jagged surface that he likened to the scars left by the European colonial encounter with Africa.

In his most recent metal wall sculptures, made during the last decade, Anatsui assembles thousands of Nigerian liquor-bottle tops into visual patterns of stunning sensory impact, transforming this simple material into forms that recall painting, sculpture, and tapestry, among other established art forms. They are so rich in association that they seem to address the universal and the particular, the global and the local, history, memory and the constancy of change, all at the same time.

"When I Last Wrote to You about Africa" represents the largest number of Anatsui's works ever assembled in the United States. Included are prime examples of his monumental wall hangings and floor installations, as well as gestural acrylic paintings and ink drawings, made at various points during his career and shown here outside of Nigeria for the first time. Collectively, the works reveal Anatsui's artistic process and larger themes of the last 30 years.