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El Anatsui wins Skowhegan medal for sculpture

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El Anatsui


The Ghana-born Nigerian sculptor, El Anatsui, has been awarded the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture’s 2020 Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture.

The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture is a New York-based summer residency programme for emerging visual artists.
Founded in 1946, it brings together each year “a diverse group of individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to artmaking and inquiry, creating the most stimulating and rigorous environment possible for a concentrated period of artistic creation, interaction and growth.”

The founding and development of Skowhegan is deeply connected to the explosive energy that characterised post-war American culture. In the mid-1940s, the art world was in ferment; what was to become known as the New York School was in its formative stages.

Willard W. Cummings (1915-1975), a New England portrait painter, shared his vision for enriching and educating the practical art experience of young artists with a friend he met while in the Army War Art Unit, Sidney Simon (1917-1997).

Well-known for large scale sculpture composed of thousands of folded and crumpled pieces of metal sourced from local alcohol recycling stations and bound together with copper wire, El Anatsui (F ’07) transforms simple materials into complex assemblages that create distinctive visual impact. He uses resources typically discarded such as liquor bottle caps, printing plates and cassava graters to create sculpture that defies categorisation. His use of these materials reflects his interest in reuse, transformation, and an intrinsic desire to connect to his continent of Africa while transcending the limitations of place.

His work can interrogate the history of colonialism and draw connections between consumption, waste, and the environment, but at the core is his unique formal language that distinguishes his practice.

These intricate works, which can grow to be massive in scale, are both luminous and weighty, meticulously fabricated yet malleable. He leaves the installations open and encourages the works to take different forms every time they are installed.

In 2015, he was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, the Venice Biennale’s highest honor. In 2019, Haus der Kunst presented a wide-ranging traveling survey of his work titled El Anatsui: Monumental Scale, curated by Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu and accompanied by a catalogue published by Prestel.


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