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El Anatsui

Detroit Institute of Arts displays art by Ghana’s El Anatsui

El Anatsui
El Anatsui, Amemo (Mask of Humankind, 2010, aluminum bottle tops and copper wire. Collection of Padma and Raj Vattikuti. Photo by Eric Wheeler, Detroit Institute of Arts

DETROIT – A monumental work by internationally renowned Ghanian artist El Anatsui, one of the most original and compelling artists of his generation, is now on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) in the museum’s Great Hall. “Amemo (Mask of Humankind)” is on loan from the collection of Padma and Raj Vattikuti and will be on view for several years.

“When we are able to display a work from a private collection, it benefits our entire community,” said Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director. “We are grateful to Padma and Raj for letting us share this fascinating artwork with our visitors, who will be able to make their own personal connections with it.”

Anatsui created this monumental work using reclaimed aluminum liquor bottle caps recycled near his studio in Nigeria. He flattened the caps, molded them into circular forms, and strung them together with copper wire, creating patterns using the existing colors and designs of the bottle caps. For Anatsui, the artwork exists somewhere between painting, sculpture, and textile.

“I strongly believe in works that have multiple benefits to the community. El’s magnificent creations not only clean up the environment by reusing materials but also provide job sustainability to locals,” said Padma Vattikuti.

From a distance, this massive piece resembles a luxurious, glittering tapestry. DIA Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Laurie Farrell purposely choose the Great Hall to display “Amemo” to place the work in conversation with the colorful ceiling and the armor on view in that space.

Anatsui was born in 1944 in Anyako in Ghana’s Volta Region and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana, where he studied drawing, painting, and sculpture in the Western tradition. He earned a postgraduate diploma in art education and secured his first teaching position upon graduation as a lecturer in the Art Education Department at Specialist Training College, Winneba, Ghana (now University of Education, Winneba). In 1975 Anatsui became professor of sculpture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he would teach for the next 35 years.

Anatsui’s success as an artist was greatly catapulted when he was prominently featured in the 2007 Venice Biennale. He received the Visionaries Artist Award from the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City in 2008 and the Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands in 2009. His artwork will be shown at next year’s Carnegie International.

Among the collections that include his artwork are the British Museum, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo; Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, New York; Blanton Museum of Art, Austin; Denver Art Museum; Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City; de Young Museum, San Francisco; and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle. Anatsui currently lives and works in Nigeria.

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El Anatsui