BY: Beverly Andrews
The October Gallery’s Transvangarde series continues its quest to bring together indigenous artists from the emerging world and give them a wider exposure. Its current show includes artists from as far afield as China, Nepal, Ghana and the Congo and presents some of the most dazzling contemporary art work from around the globe.
The two artists who stand out in this group are both African. One is the illustrious, acclaimed Ghanaian veteran, El Anatsui, an artist who has very much been in the vanguard of contemporary African art. He is joined in this wonderful exhibition by the new emerging Congolese artist, Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga, whose startlingly original work is very much a show highlight.
The artistic titan of this show would have to be El Anatsui, a graduate of the College of Art, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. His ability to create beautiful art from aluminium bottle tops has been marvelled at by art critics from around the world for decades now.
El Anatsui has toured the world with many large-scale shows, including in 2007, when he transformed the facade of the Palazzo Fortuny museum in Venice by draping it in a shimmering wall sculpture.
His large-scale works appeared in the 2010 show, A Fateful Journey: Africa in the Works of El Anatsui at the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan, and also in the retrospective of his work, When I Last Wrote to You About Africa, at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.
As part of the 2012 Paris Triennale, El Anatsui transformed the entire facade of Le Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris with his striking work, Broken Bridge.
In 2013, the Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA, exhibited the touring solo exhibition, Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui and the Royal Academy of Arts, London, presented the artist with the prestigious Charles Wollaston Award for his work, TSIATSIA – searching for connection, which covered the entire facade of the RA building.
Five Decades, which in 2015 premiered at The School (Jack Shainman Gallery) in Kinderhook, New York, toured to Carriageworks (in association with Sydney Festival), Sydney, Australia, in 2016. And a major work, Kindred Viewpoints, enveloped the facade of El Badi Palace during the 2016 Marrakech Biennale.
El Anatsui’s work is not just startlingly original, it also demonstrates his ability to document black life through the use of materials most often discarded, but which he gives a new life to.
He states: “Art is a reflection on life. Life isn’t something we can cut and fix. It’s always in a state of flux.” And although he gives galleries a great deal of freedom in how they display his work, it also places a great deal of responsibility on their shoulders.
Lisa Binder, the curator of contemporary art at the Museum of African Art, comments: “As a curator that sounds amazing but it is actually terrifying to have no direction on how to install. You’re simultaneously grateful to El and ungrateful.”
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