'Artists are better off working with whatever their environment throws up. I think that's what has been happening in Africa for a long time...I believe that color is inherent in everything, and it's possible to get color from around you and that you're better off picking something which relates to your circumstances and your environment than going to buy ready-made color' (El Anatsui, exh. cat, London, 2005, n.p.).
El Anatsui's 2006 work, Dzodze, presents a stunning and majestic sculpture from his magnificent and monumental cloth series. This elegantly rendered work created from found metal bottle caps, exemplifies the lustrous way the artist draws inspiration not only from the art historical tradition of using found objects, but also from his African culture. Introduced to the international art world during his representation at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007, Anatsui's works are found in leading collections across the world from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Centre Pompidou and the British Museum, London.
Born in Ghana but currently living and working as an art professor at a Nigerian University, Anatsui began developing his cloth works over ten years ago when he stopped to examine the contents of a garbage bag and found thousands of aluminum screw-tops from bottles of whiskey and gin, which he took back to his studio. Over the next few months he began experimenting with the tops by cutting and folding the metal which he then stitched together with copper wire. The outcome of this experimentation resulted in large, awe-inspiring, fabric-like metal cloths that present beautiful and intricate patterns reminiscent of African textiles. Joining the tradition of reappropriating found objects into fine art like Robert Rauschenberg's Bed, Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel and Koon's basketballs, Anatsui's cloths cause the viewer to examine the relationship between found objects, their inherent beauty and the expectation about how we define art.
The bottle caps are typically from bottles from local distilleries. Caps from whiskey, rum and gin bottles with names like Flying Horse, Catsello, Bakassi, Liquor Headmaster, Ecomog and Dark Sailor are produced in vibrant colors like reds, blues and golds, which create energetic patterns in the makeup of the cloth. These colorful and geometric patterns are reminiscent of variations of kente cloth, a native tapestry of Ghana. Originally the ceremonial cloth of kings worn for official occasions, the kente cloth confers cultural resonance and importance to Ghanaians. 'Cloth is to the African what monuments are to Westerners...Their capacity and application to commemorate events, issues, persons and objectives outside of themselves are so immense' (Ibid).
In Dzodze the artist creates a work that, while reminiscent of the historical kente cloth, is also imbued with contemporary African references and meaning. The work is named for a town in the south eastern corner of Ghana, the artist's birth country. Primarily a farming community, one of Dzodze's main exports is gin which is distilled from local sugar. This reference to liquor is underscored in the use of the bottle caps the artist chooses to create the geometric pattern within the cloth. Vibrant blue and orange hammered metal bottle tops bearing the logo of Zandob Industries Limited create an intricate pattern in the vast work. A liquor manufacturer that produces wine, brandy and gin, Zandob Industries Limited is a Nigerian company. By combining the logo of a Nigerian liquor company with a name derived from a Ghanaian town, Dzodze is concerned with the historical and cultural elements found within the work, but also combines the two nations which mean the most to the artist personally. Dzodze references the significance that liquor has played in the historical narrative of the African continent. In the 17th century both liquor and cloth were commodities that Westerners traded for slaves. In Dzodze, Anatasui combines products of both of these items to create a seemingly beautiful and fluid tapestry that has hidden layers and meanings, connecting individual and collective histories of the African continent in its references to history, consumption, and globalization.