EL ANATSUI (B. 1944)
signed and dated 'EL 03' (upper left, part (ix)); titled 'Oga I' (on the reverse, part (ii))
acrylic and found objects on carved wood, in ten parts
overall: 38 1/4 x 41 3/8in. (97 x 105cm.)
Executed in 2003
Private Collection.
Anon. sale, Bonhams London, 21 May 2014, lot 89.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Cambridge, Heong Gallery at Downing College, When The Heavens Meet The Earth, 2017, pp. 12 & 105 (illustrated in colour, p. 13).

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Lot Essay

El Anatsui is one of the most distinguished contemporary artists of the present day. Born in Ghana, he lives and works in the university town of Nsukka, Nigeria and is best known for his shimmering flattened bottle cap wall-hanging sculptures. El Anatsui began teaching at the University of Nsukka in 1975, where at a time of great creative ferment following the end of the Civil War, he began his association with leading figures such as Professor Uche Okeke and Demas Nwoko, they became known as the Nsukka School. During this time he was working in wood, his preferred medium for the final quarter of the twentieth century. In 1980, while cutting logs during a residency in the United States, he describes a moment of clear realization, as he recognised the expressive qualities of the chainsaw as tool, and understood the additional sculptural possibilities of the age-old medium manipulated by powerful new tools, each with their own unique characteristics and graphic syntaxes.
Thereafter, he explores a wide range of mechanical, wood-working power tools to draw upon, score, gouge and drill through the sequential slats of wood that he adopted as his nominal ‘canvas’. After which traditional pyrographic techniques, applied with a blow-torch, would burn off and darken the wood before acrylic paints added highlights of colour to the evolving forms. The outcome in these works is part carving, part drawing; a muscular, unprecedented technique firmly rooted in the contemporary, advancing the modernist aesthetic without abandoning the roots of indigenous traditional forms.
OGA I features four built-in compartments which store various found objects, including a key and a button, as well as dyed patterned fabric. The centre of the work is comprised with holes, surrounded by expressive crosshatched lines blackened by the blowtorch, above these, text, symbols and numerology adorn the upper section of the sculpture. These script syllabaries reflect El Anatsui’s fascination with Nsibidi patterning marks and the Efik Secret Society. The work overflows with complex and secret meanings.
In Drying Line the carved wooden slats reveal the most common of daily sights, different cloths and items of clothing hung out to dry, we can recognise distinctive western branding on one of the garments, the other cloths and fabrics each carry their own distinctive patterns and styles and evoke the many different ethnic groups of which Nigeria is composed. El Anatsui playfully renders this vernacular motif, a striking example of his unparalleled inventiveness and his hunger to extend the range and breadth of wood as a sculptural medium.
Selected solo exhibitions include El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale, Haus Der Kunst, touring to Mathaf, Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Kunstmuseum Bern and the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (2019-2020); Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui, Brooklyn Museum, New York; Des Moines Art Center, Iowa; Bass Museum of Art, Miami; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (2014-2015); The Art of Our Time: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collections, Guggenheim Bilbao (2014). El Anatsui has appeared at the Venice Biennale in 1990, 2007, 2015 and 2022; he was awarded the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2015. In 2012 he was elected as an honorary member of the Royal Academy, London. El Anatsui is represented by October Gallery, London.

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