"New wood has poetry locked in it,
Old wood is poetry itself, time
having worn off the prose."

photograph courtesy October Gallery

El Anatsui

El Anatsui was born in 1944 in Anyako, in southeastern Ghana, and trained at the College of Art, University of Science and Technology, in Kumasi, Ghana. He has been teaching at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, since 1975. The work he created in Ghana is best known for the incisions made with hot irons on round or spherical market trays of Ghanaian wood.

At Nsukka, and later when he briefly resided in Wales, El Anatsui worked in clay, often combined with manganese, to create unusual objects based on traditional Ghanaian beliefs and other subjects. He then turned to making wall panels formed from strips of wood placed side by side. Designs were cut into the surface with gouges and a chain saw, blackened with the flame of an acetylene torch. Some wood surfaces and some designs were painted. More recently he has fabricated freestanding wood pieces and entire installations. Anatsui freely utilizes local craft products, such as Ghanaian trays and Igbo palm mortars, as well as the natural materials of wood and clay. The aesthetic qualities of his wall-hung wood panels are heightened by the inclusion of several differently colored tropical woods. Like Obiora Udechukwu, Anatsui's artistic ideas and techniques continue to develop. His art is gaining international recognition through exhibitions in Brazil, Japan, Germany, England, South Africa, and the United States.

A number of themes recur in Anatsui's art. One is the destruction and reconstitution of materials as metaphors for life, experience, and changes in Africa under colonialism and since independence. A second theme is associated with textiles and traditional African crafts. After he had created several wall panels from strips of wood, Anatsui realized that they resembled West African strip-woven cloth. His concern over Western scholars' misinterpretation of African history and the distortions it has caused forms a third theme.

Already utilizing uli, nsibidi, and Ghanaian motifs, Anatsui continues to search for African design systems, written languages, and other indigenous forms of communication to incise in the hewn surfaces of his imposing wooden sculptures.

Back to: NMAfA past exhibits