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El Anatsui: The Reinvention of Sculpture

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Authored by two acclaimed scholars, Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu, this is the most comprehensive and authoritative account yet on the work of El Anatsui, the world-renowned Ghanaian-born sculptor. The product of more than three decades of research and close collaboration with the artist, it shows how his early wood reliefs and terracottas, and the later monumental metal sculptures, express a search for alternative models of art-making.

The authors argue that the pervasiveness of fragmentation as a compositional device in Anatsui’s oeuvre evokes the impact of colonization and postcolonial forces on African cultures. At the same time, the invocation of resilience and fragility invests his shape-shifting sculptures with iconic power. The authors also show how, in his critically acclaimed metal works, the manual labor of flattening, cutting, twisting and crushing bottle caps and using copper wires to suture and stitch the elements into one dazzling, reconfigurable epic piece serves as a powerful metaphor for human life.

This book presents Anatsui as a visionary of incomparable imagination, also situating his work within a broader historical context―specifically, the postcolonial modernism of midcentury African artists and writers, the cultural ferment of post-independence Ghana and the intellectual environment of the 1970s Nsukka School. By recovering these histories, the authors show how and why Anatsui became one of the most formidable sculptors of our time.

Born in Anyako, Ghana, in 1944, El Anatsui is widely regarded as the greatest living African artist. He has received the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Biennale (2015), the Praemium Imperiale Award for Sculpture (2017) and the Lorenzo il Magnifico Lifetime Achievement Award (2017). His works are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern; and the National Gallery of Modern Art, Lagos, among others.




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