• Christie’s are collaborating with Efie Gallery, Dubai, to present an exhibition of three pioneering Ghanaian artists, El Anatsui, Yaw Owusu, and Isshaq Ismail
• The exhibition offers an artistic dialogue that traces the legacy of two generations of contemporary Ghanaian art
• El Anatsui and Yaw Owusu both transform everyday materials to create works of complex beauty, while Isshaq Ismail is known for dynamic, grotesque portraits
• The exhibition will offer viewers the first opportunity in Europe to view a new series of wooden sculptures by El Anatsui
• Ten works will be on display at Christie’s King Street from 28 April to 13 May 2022
London – Christie’s will present Material Earth, an exhibition in collaboration with Efie Gallery. Founded in 2021 and based in Dubai, Efie Gallery’s programme focuses on art from Africa with an emphasis on West Africa. Material Earth showcases the work of three pioneering Ghanaian artists: El Anatsui, Yaw Owusu and Isshaq Ismail. These artists have each established their own distinctive visual languages. El Anatsui has emerged as one of the world’s foremost contemporary sculptors while Isshaq Ismail is internationally renowned for his portraits that manipulate the human figure and question our sense of identity. Born in 1992, Yaw Owusu is a young artist who, like El Anatsui, reconstitutes upcycled materials including coins to create rich, shimmering abstractions. The exhibition, Material Earth, seeks to stimulate the current global dialogue on sustainability, materiality and waste. The viewer is invited to consider the materials that contribute to the complex beauty envisioned in the work of Anatsui and Owusu. When arriving at Isshaq Ismail’s grotesque figures, the context within which they are viewed intends to focus viewers on how environmental waste in the world can be seen as a reflection of ourselves.
Isabel Millar, Specialist, Post-War and Contemporary Art, Christie’s: “Christie’s is thrilled to collaborate with Efie Gallery, a recently established gallery based in Dubai, on a focused presentation of three Ghanaian artists. El Anatsui’s visionary sculptures incorporate found materials to create shimmering, abstract installations and his influence can be seen in the work of Yaw Owusu. Owusu’s richly textured wall-sculptures use the Ghanaian ‘pesewa’ coin to create sumptuous, yet politically charged pieces that question the origins of value. Verging on abstraction, Isshaq Ismail’s bold portraits explore ideas of contemporary beauty. We are honoured to stage an exhibition that will show the breadth of these three artists’ work and engage in a dialogue on upcycling through art.”
Kwame Mintah, Co-Founder and Co-Director, Efie Gallery: “We at Efie gallery are excited to showcase in Europe for the first time by way of a unique collaboration with historic institution Christie’s. Following our successful debut exhibition in 2021 and our ongoing El Anatsui solo exhibition Shard Song in Dubai, we strive to present art from Africa at the highest levels. Thus, the presentation of Material Earth in Christie’s head office in London seeks to continue in this vain. This exhibition will present works by internationally revered artist El Anatsui, alongside pioneering painter Isshaq Ismail and fast-rising sculptor Yaw Owusu. The works on display will include work from El Anatsui’s newest series of wooden sculptures that are yet to be shown in Europe. Ultimately, Material Earth seeks to contribute to the current global dialogue on sustainability, materiality and waste, inviting the viewer to question the transition of a natural world into a material one, due to environmental waste.”
In the 1970s, Anatsui engaged with clay but made a lasting return to wood as a medium the following decade. While he states that his work with wood started as a way of keeping alive some of the traditions he grew up with, the work is unquestionably contemporary: his exploration of the expressive qualities of the chainsaw in his wood works dispels preconceptions of the traditional West African wood sculptor. Mining the detritus of commercial products became a way for El Anatsui to delve into the complicated histories with which he was working. Having stumbled across a bag of bottle caps in the Nsukka countryside, he began to explore the aesthetic and conceptual properties of these objects. Indeed, spirits including whiskey were a key commodity used by Europeans to trade with in 19th century West Africa, a notorious period of commodification taken to its most horrifying extremes. With the help of studio assistants, he developed mastery over the medium, allowing him to work on a monumental scale. His development of a multitude of techniques to treat the bottle caps —specific ways of crushing, folding, twisting and cutting them to form vast arrays of patterns, motifs and textures—has created an inimitable aesthetic vocabulary. He also adopts a non-prescriptive approach to the display of his sculptures, encouraging others to arrange or drape them without instruction, insisting that we consider the works as organic and changing over time.
Isshaq Ismail creates vivid and dynamic portraits which explore notions of the grotesque. Despite being portraits, the works often verge on the abstract: bold form and raw feeling are favoured over a realistic figurative rendering. There is an urgency to the way the paint is applied to the canvas and the textures are richly layered and applied thickly. The resulting portraits are wildly expressive and boldly coloured. The appeal of Ismail’s figures lies in his distinctly brash and unapologetic style and his ability to create a searing impression through the feelings and emotions his figures convey.
Yaw Owusu creates glittering large-scale wall sculptures. One of his key materials is the ‘pesewa’ coin, a piece of loose change that he uses to make gleaming fields of abstract pattern. First circulated in Ghana in 2007 in an attempt to combat the country’s rising inflation, the copper coins have almost no financial value today, despite having been deemed the saviour of the country’s economy at the time. An important dimension of Owusu’s practice is that he had to negotiate with Ghana’s banks in order to acquire the coins. Owusu insists that this difficult bureaucratic process is a crucial conceptual element of the work, and of equal importance to the physical sculpture. The coins themselves are treated using a variety of methods to chemically alter their surface: chemical compounds such as vinegar and salt are applied, changing the colouration and texture of the metal to create vivid chromatic effects. In his work, Owusu plays with the idea of alchemy and explores notions of value as well as addressing politics on local and global levels.
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