El Anatsui in the Haus der Kunst – “Triumphant Scale”

El Anatsui (*1944) is a Ghanaian artist who has worked for most of his life in Nigeria. The youngest of 32 children, he lost his mother early on and was forever searching for something that had “more relationship to me”.

By pure coincidence, he once found a bag full of bottle tops and took them home, where they were forgotten for a while. When he found them again, he cut the caps into different pieces, formed them and joined the pieces with copper wire. Why expensive copper wire? According to El Anatsui, copper has been part of man’s culture for all times, used to make bronze, weapons, pots and pans, and so forth, making copper mine owners rather rich.

The hangings made of metal and plastic caps weigh very much. They are held up by steel wires and beams, nails and in the case of “waves”, the hanging is buoyed up by rabbit wire which the artist went off to buy himself in a hardware shop.

The “curtains” of Liligo Logorithm form a kind of labyrinth, some overlap and form an opaque layer, some have ornamental insets, some are open and airy.

The black and white prints titled “Cassava” are the 3D prints of the cassava fruit graters. Oil canisters are cut into pieces, holes are punched into the metal and then enlarged to make a grater for the fleshy part of this seed fruit, also known as manioc. Manioc is a staple food in Ghana. The whiter print is a photo of the cuts and grooves of the working table.

The hangings in black-red-gold are an hommage to Germany. The big red one is called the “Red Block” and the black one the “Black Box”. Most caps are from alcohol bottles and it is quite intentional that the large red caps are “The Lords” and farther up the caps are tinier.

On one photo (9) you can see the “Tiled Garden”, a series of square white “tiles” surrounded by round floral designs in green and red and the stump of a “tree”. The golden hill (bottom row right) is titled “Yams’ hill” to imitate the real hills that yams are grown in, a staple food in Ghana.

His works in wood symbolize traditional plates or indicated the need to save the trees and not waste wood.

Meanwhile El Anatsui employs many people to help him prepare his works of art, some of which take half a dozen years to finish. Each and every exhibition is unique since the buildings, the wall paint, the hanging and the “waves” are always different. Should you have the opportunity, do go to see the originals, photos are not half as good!