El Anatsui 'Stitch in Time'
May 11 - June 30, 2012
Opening: May 10, 2012 -- 6 pm-9 pm
Sankofa. An important Akan word in African history, meaning “looking back and picking up”. It was used as a slogan of many African countries during the 1960s, after their independence. All of the new nations were faced with the difficult problem of finding their unique cultural identity. During those years, the people found that history was the most reliable source of identity. It became an urgent task for the nation state to look back at the history carved out by its ancestors and take things from it to hold onto while moving toward the future. This is precisely the concept expressed by the Akan word sankofa.
Being a child of the hopeful 1960’s, El Anatsui (°1944, Ghana) grew up in a period typified by the profound search for social and personal identity. This search has become a central theme through his art. He investigates the erosion of tradition as well as its survival and transmission into the future.
Anatsui uses the word sankofa when he speaks of adinkra, a 17th century graphical system that is used to form patterns on African textile, and which is a great inspiration to the artist. Each symbol has a particular meaning. They often refer to abstract concepts of faith or courage or are a reference to proverbs and ancient sayings. In earlier times, these symbols were stamped on cotton cloth and distributed in the form of textiles. These pieces of cloth were mainly used for being worn during funeral ceremonies, but now, with the symbols also applied to pottery, walls of houses, backs of chairs, T-shirts and so forth, they have become a common element of everyday life.
For Anatsui, adinkra symbols have become a means for concretely expressing the concept of sankofa, a means of communication between the past, the present and the future, a means of finding identity. El Anatsui communicates with memories and tradition to define his place as an individual in the here and now.
The meaning of sankofa also applies to Anatsui’s choice of material. He mainly uses discarded materials. In his own words, he states: “Art grows out of each particular situation and I believe that artists are better off working with whatever their environment throws up…”
Most of Anatsui’s sculptures are made out of materials once designated for another purpose. His early works were built out of broken pottery or old wooden logs, which he cut up using a chainsaw. In the past ten years, Anatsui has focused on large tapestry-like metal sculptures made up out of thousands of colourful liquor caps. Using found objects he reworks and rearranges materials and transforms them into something new without them losing their own history. His work could be described as a collage of discarded memories. Anatsui recombines them into his own, never fixed syntax, which the viewer is invited to adapt freely, bringing in his own history. The meaning of Anatsui’s work is fluid, just like textile.
Although individually humble, the materials he uses become collectively monumental, just like our individual actions as consumers and communicators allow us to participate in a global community.
Anatsui’s work gently alerts us to universal history of migration and of the human histories and relationships behind the materials that surround us, interlacing object and metaphor like elements within a cloth. With this exhibition “Stitch in Time”, Anatsui refers to the hackneyed saying, "A stitch in time saves nine", which means that it is better to solve a problem promptly to save work and time in the long run. Transferred to the social cloth that we all take part of, this saying becomes a very apt prescription for the emergent condition of things at personal, national and global level today. If we linger and hesitate any longer before we take action, the cloth will be torn completely and it will become even harder to repair it.
El Anatsui was born in 1944 in Anyako, Ghana and has been based in Nsukka, Nigeria since 1975. He holds a professorship in sculpture at the University of Nigeria. Over the years, El Anatsui has become a leading light of contemporary sculpture. Major institutions such as the British Museum, the MoMA and the Centre Pompidou have collected his work.