Radiating beyond its own parameters, El Anatsui’s New Layout presents a luminous sheen of glowing silvers punctuated by bright reds and brilliant yellows woven together in an enchanting palimpsest of glittering chainmail. From the artist’s celebrated “cloth” series, the radiating expanse of New Layout is composed of thousands of liquor bottle caps intricately folded and woven together by filaments of copper wire. Echoing the pliability of fabric, the captivating works in Anatsui’s cloth series can be adapted to each unique surface from which they hang—imbuing them with a lyrical sense of undulating movement. The opulent palette of Anatsui’s chosen materials coalesce with the billowing effect of his sculptures to evoke the aesthetic grandeur of color field painting, while the shimmering display of lights reflected off his metallic surface recalls the transcendent effect of Byzantine mosaics.
Anatsui first came across bottle caps by chance in 1998 when he found a discarded heap of milk-tin lids in the bushes near his town. “Several things went through my mind when I found the bag of bottle tops in the bush,” the artist has explained. “I thought of the objects as links between my continent, Africa, and the rest of Europe. Objects such as these were introduced to Africa by Europeans when they came as traders. Alcohol was one of the commodities brought with them to exchange for goods in Africa. Eventually alcohol became one of the items used in the transatlantic slave trade. They made rum in the West Indies, took it to Liverpool, and then it made its way back to Africa. I thought that the bottle caps had a strong reference to the history of Africa… I kept the bottle tops in the studio for several months until the idea eventually came to me that by stitching them together I could get them to articulate some statement. When the process of stitching got underway, I discovered that the result resembled a real fabric cloth. Incidentally too, the colors of the caps seemed to replicate those for traditional kente cloths” (E. Anatsui quoted in, S.M. Vogel, El Anatsui: Art and Life, Munich, 2012, pp. 53-54).