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El Anatsui – Theory of Se

Exhibition details

Opening / Event Date:
13 May, 2014
5:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Closing / End Date:
12 August, 2014
Event Category:

One of the most celebrated contemporary artists of the time, El Anatsui (b.1944, Ghana) has created three new works for the inaugural exhibition of Axel Vervoordt Gallery in Hong Kong.

Themes and titles of Anatsui’s works are profound, poetic and deeply loaded with references to his origin and cultural background. The word Se means fate, fortune and destiny. Within this theme, the artist explores three states of mind: affirmation, intimation, and revelation. The form of hundreds of liquor bottle tops woven into a tapestry-like sculpture attempts to explore the meanings of Se, representing how each component plays a role in forecasting the fate, fortune, and destiny of an individual.

Formal language of the sculptures is another key to the understanding of the aesthetic sensibilities of Anatsui’s work. Elements of color and the three-dimensional quality break down the definition of conventional painting and sculpture. A large, fluid, colorful installation draped over the wall is visually overwhelming. Voluminous, undulated folds and luminous colors invite viewers to touch and walk around. Playfulness of the form and the freedom to shape the works reflect openness and the fluid aspects of Anatsui’s work.

Additionally, the repetitively hand-stitched bottle caps evoke the cultural tradition of handcraft. Although the material comes from mass products there is no industrial feeling to it. Hints of the touch and craft of human hands are embedded into the work bringing a sense of emotion and contemplation.

Rich in interpretation, the liquor bottle caps also comment on colonial history in Africa. It references the trans-Atlantic slave trade, as alcohol was one of the commodities Europeans brought to Africa for the exchange of goods. Anatsui’s work is a constant reflection to the past and an attempt to be aware of the future.

Leitmotif of his work is based on the essence of sankofa, which means ‘return and get it’. As the artist explains, it’s not a wholesale return to the past nor is it a total exclusion of external influence; his work is a link to the past and the future. The artist transforms everyday materials into a work of art by seamlessly incorporating cultural, historical, philosophical context of his origins, and yet enables it to speak to global audiences.

This is the second exhibition of the artist with Axel Vervoordt Gallery following the exhibition, ‘Stitch in Time’ in Antwerp in 2012. He accepted a teaching position in the Sculpture, Fine and Applied Arts department at University of Nigeria in 1975, retiring as professor of sculpture in 2011.

His works are included in the collection of The British Museum (London), Brooklyn Museum (New York), Centre Pompidou (Paris), Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (Abu Dhabi), Museum of Modern Art (New York), Setagaya Museum (Tokyo), Metropolitan Museum (New York) and Smithsonian Institute (Washington DC) to name a few. He was recently elected honorary member of the Royal Academy of Art, London and the Americam Academy of Arts and Sciences. ArtReview named him as one of the most influential figures in the art world in its Power 100 list in 2013.


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