Whiskey river

This shimmering textile sculpture, is actually thousands of metal whiskey labels that the African artist, El Anatsui, has painstakingly “sewn” together bit by bit with copper wire into a quilt of shining color.

El Anatsui Dusasa I

El Anatsui Dusasa I

These pieces are monumental in scale; one was even draped over a building facade.  The sheer magnetism of the metal tapestry draws you to study the intricacy of its construction.  It’s then that the power of the “weaving” hits you. Like the rich colors playing with the light, I think of many things.

  •  The painstaking and creative construction. This is a humble piece of trash here. Folded, twisted, made into rectangles, squares, circles and joined together by hand, one by one.
  •  The enormous number of labels. Soooo many of these liquor bottle labels, the ubiquity of them, suggests the people in Ghana and Africa, are drinking a lot of whiskey.
  • The labels are in English, not African languages, so this whisky is imported from abroad and whispers of imperialism and the immense sadness it has wrought on Africa. However this grief sounds more like a deep throb in the heart of this piece rather than a shout of anger.
  •  This “trash”  is transformed. The sum, greater than its parts.  We are all part of this cloth. Each one, a piece in a shining whole.  The inter-connectedness of us all.  The power and diversity of the African spirit / human spirit – a glittering tapestry (despite the drunken folly).
El Anatsui, Fading Scroll ( detail), 2007 Aluminum and copper wire

El Anatsui, Fading Scroll ( detail), 2007 Aluminum and copper wire

The light plays with the waves and folds in the metal cloth and mesmerizes you. They drape and change with each installation, giving it new life.  The light reflects and scatters into a thousand mirrors. I imagine it taking a mystical quality like a magic carpet or a waving banner of hope.


One Comment on “Whiskey river”

  1. SigO says:

    I throughly enjoyed this exhibit. If I may take a quick detour to another artist you have reviewed prior to commenting further on El Anatsui.

    It’s no secret in our household that I was angered by Cattelan’s piece at the Guggenheim. I’m still quite emotional about his art, but not for the reasons he would like, but I’ll digress. As we walked and talked our way through the Blanton, it occurred to me that I have immense personal space when it comes to art. That really isn’t much of a surprise If interacting with art is like having a conversation with another person, a realm where my personal space requirements are also noteworthy. What I liked about El Anatsui is he allowed me to have my space while introducing me to his world view, including his commentary on some very disturbing aspects of African life…. alcoholism, slave trade, the ignoring of Africa and its history by the rest of the world, and I’m certain many others. His art was intelligent, versatile and engaging. He didn’t scream, or laugh mockingly. Instead he lured me in as an equal and I listened. His “installation” art (as I call it, or maybe the experts call it) was refreshing and enjoyable.


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