Sunday, 4th June 2023

El Anatsui in quest for freedom at Africa2020

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
13 December 2020   |   4:16 am
It is a popular aphorism that Africa does not give up its secrets easily. Buried in the continent’s womb are a whole lot of secrets and complex issues, whose ultimate clue to unlocking is to befriend and cultivate Africa.

It is a popular aphorism that Africa does not give up its secrets easily. Buried in the continent’s womb are a whole lot of secrets and complex issues, whose ultimate clue to unlocking is to befriend and cultivate Africa. Such a friendly relationship with a continent that has been balkanised by misinformation and false hopes, and by fraudulent and power drunk individuals s what has led to Africa2020.

Initiated by French President, Emmanuel Macron, around the major challenges of the 21st century, the Africa2020 Season is dedicated to the 54 countries of the continent.

Organised and implemented by the Institut français, the Africa2020 Season brings together several events in December throughout France. It is a pan-African, multidisciplinary project centred on innovation in the arts, science, technology, entrepreneurship and the economy, bringing together more than 200 events all over France.

In the words of N’Goné Fall, General commissioner of the Season, Africa2020 is “an invitation to look at and understand the world from an African perspective.”

Depending on the sanitary situation and confirmation of the reopening of museums on December 15, the Africa2020 Season will be launched on December 16.

The season will open with In quest of freedom, an exhibition by the Ghanaian visual artist El Anatsui, a carte blanche given by the Centre des monuments nationaux at the Conciergerie in Paris. This will be the first solo exhibition in France by one of the most fascinating artists in Africa.

Fall, general curator of the Africa2020 Season, is also the curator of the Carte Blanche exhibition given by the Center des monuments nationaux in El Anatsui.

This carte blanche is a site-specific creation, which draws inspiration from the site and the building’s history. Under the monument’s vaulted cellars, the artist conceives a poetic setup ideal to meditate on the passing of ‘Time’, echoing the history of the Palais de la Cité, its setting and medieval architecture.

According to the organisers, “the artist imagines, under the centuries-old vaults of the monument, a poetic installation, conducive to meditation on the passage of time, in resonance with the history of the Palais de la Cité, its environment and its medieval architecture.”

The statement added, “immersed in a subdued light, punctuated by the pillars and vaults of the monument, this installation calls upon five elements of nature: water, wind, wood, metal and stone.”

Originally from Ghana but based in Nigeria, is one of the “most recognised and fascinating” international contemporary artists of the time.

“Throughout a distinguished career as a sculptor and teacher, he has addressed a wide range of social, political and historical concerns, and embraced an equally diverse range of mediums and creative processes.”

He said, “an artist survives very well in an environment where there is idea stimulation and I have a lot of stimulation in the environment from the things that are cultural and even the language.”

Anatsui told The Guardian that his first experience with art was through drawing letters on a chalkboard.

“During my pre-school years, I lived in a mission house with an uncle who was a reverend. We used chalk and slate. The letters always baffled me. I thought they were very interesting signs. I thought they were human beings,” the sculptor explained.

“When I went to university, sculpture looked interesting to me. That was an area I had not been introduced to in all the other stages of education. So, I instinctively chose to major in it. Having done that, I discovered that I made a very good choice because sculpture seems to be so wide that within it, you can have so many others,” he said.

He added, “in sculpture, for instance, you handle colour like a painter — They are even restricted kind of to canvas or only papers. In sculpture, you’re handling colours in so many ways. You have all the other areas subsumed in it. As a sculptor, you can use fabrics, paints and just anything to work with. You can even use clay, which is ceramics. All the other areas are easily found in the discipline. As a sculptor, you have the freedom to work in all these areas.”

In his essay, El Anatsui: Beyond Death and Nothingness, Olu Oguibe, said, “the artist El Anatsui is almost inextricably associated with sculpture in wood, a medium, which he has not only made very much his own but also relocated into the site of modernist sculpture without compromise in craft or indeed in its original conceptual properties.”

The greater part of Anatsui’s oeuvre over the past two decades is not in wood but in clay.

Anatsui actually began his career in Ghana in the late 1960s, working in concrete and much in the style of popular West African cement sculpture, “albeit with a finesse and attention to verisimilitude more closely associated with the art academies.”

From his early career as an academic, he started to define “a different aesthetic and attitude to form and material.”

Oguibe said, “departing from sculpture in concrete, a medium he would not return to for almost twenty years, and from verisimilitude and the replication of the human figure, Anatsui gave vent to his predilection for the found object and for the restoration of conceptual depth to sculpture.”