El Anatsui (b. 1944)
PROPERTY SOLD TO BENEFIT ZEITZ MOCAA
El Anatsui (b. 1944)

Warrior

Details
El Anatsui (b. 1944)
Warrior
aluminium and copper wire
124 x 137 ¾in. (315 x 350cm.)
Executed in 2015
Provenance
Donated by the artist, Courtesy of October Gallery, London.
Exhibited
Hamar, Kunstbanken Hedmark Kunstsenter, El Anatsui: Of Dzi, 2015
London, October Gallery, El Anatsui: New Works, 2016 (illustrated in colour, on the cover & p. 22).
Sale room notice
Please note that the dimensions in inches for this lot are 124 x 137 ¾in.

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Leonie Grainger
Leonie Grainger

Lot Essay

‘You’ve touched it, and I’ve touched it. There is now a kind of bond between you and me [...] and this is an idea which is very much related to religious practice, spiritual practice, in many parts of Africa and, I believe, in many cultures of the world.’
—EL ANATSUI

‘In effect the process was subverting the stereotype of metal as a stiff, rigid medium and rather showing it as a soft, pliable, almost sensuous, material capable of attaining immense dimensions and being adapted to specific spaces.’
—EL ANATSUI

El Anatsui’s Warrior (2015) is a grand, shimmering sculpture that is at once impressively substantial and ethereally weightless, its alien figure gliding through space towards the viewer. Made from thousands of moulded aluminium bottle-tops threaded together with copper wire, the work is a continuation of the series of magnificent bottle-top hangings that the artist has produced since the beginning of the century. However, Warrior represents the first time the artist has incorporated a fully-legible human figure into the series. Unlike his previous work, here Anatsui brings the warrior of the title to life in a virtuosic display of his medium, capturing and compressing narrative and energy into the hanging: his head turned to his right, almost looking over his shoulder, the warrior bounds through four black lines that seem to bend beneath his pressure like reeds. Stitched together in one continuous layer of metal, Anatsui works his golden figure into the rippling black background, rather than laying his design over the cross-hatching of metal; in doing so, the warrior is held in a moment of suspended energy, both a symbol flattened into the fabric of the hanging and a figure imbued with life leaping out from the wall and into the space of room.

Anatsui’s bottle-top hangings are an exceptionally powerful series, and the artist’s most important works; aside from their extraordinary technical excellence and craftsmanship (Anatsui has developed fifteen different bottle-top palettes to serve as different ‘elements’ for the works), they resound with history, tying together a West African past and present. Sourcing the bottle-tops en masse from liquor distilleries near his home, Nsukka, Nigeria, the fragments of aluminium not only serve as particularly malleable units of metal but as vessels of their own compacted historical narratives. In the first place, these bottle-tops are evidence of a key industry that was first exported to Africa by Europeans, and then later assimilated into the slave trade – an ineradicable symbol of the global economic and social relations that shaped the West African coastline. As Anatsui says, ‘They made rum in the West Indies, took it to Liverpool, and then it made its way back to Africa’ (E. Anatsui, quoted in S. M. Vogel, El Anatsui: Art and Life, Munich, 2012, p. 54).

Anatsui’s art itself also enters into dialogue between past and present. This dramatic work is executed with regal grandeur and scale and references ancient visual traditions of West Africa. At the same time, the act of transforming materials from objects of everyday use into objects of artistic contemplation is central to the artist’s practice. In today’s economic ecosystems in Nigeria, all kinds of everyday objects are too valuable not to re-use, and Anatsui adopts this spirit, transforming the material of daily life into art. The bottle-tops testify to the excessive refuse of today’s consumer society, largely attributable to colonialism in West Africa, and as such are charged with a moving history of economics that the artist presents in the international language of contemporary art. Warrior is as much about heritage forms of African history and culture as about the present day; in traversing these two poles, the artist produces a work of exceptional freshness and vitality.

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