During Edinburgh’s festival period, we will present a major exhibition of El Anatsui, curated by Tessa Giblin, Director of Talbot Rice Gallery. The exhibition will journey through a large selection of his iconic sculptural wall hangings, as well as a newly produced monumental work for Talbot Rice Gallery’s large gallery space. The exhibition will include carved wooden reliefs and printed works on paper and tell the story of the production of his monumental metal bottle-top artworks, most recently seen in the UK in the extraordinary commission for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. Culminating in a huge outdoor installation on the façade of Talbot Rice Gallery, within the University of Edinburgh’s Old College Quad, the exhibition will be the most significant exploration of El Anatsui’s practice, which spans more than five decades, ever staged in the UK.
One of Africa’s most prominent artists, El Anatsui’s artworks are created through the stitching- together of tens of thousands of aluminium bottle tops, reclaimed from Ghanian and Nigerian liquor bottling (and increasingly printing-press) industries. The pictorial compositions reflect the complexity of stitching together cultural, national and ethnic ideas of belonging in the aftermath of colonialism in Africa, as well as the weaving traditions within Anatsui’s own heritage (his father was a master weaver of Kente cloth) and the vulnerability of our natural world. Slipping mercurially between painting and sculpture, the artworks are shape-shifting forms, installed differently every time they are shown, giving them a life and evolution that reflects Anatsui’s active understanding of his artworks as living objects – carriers of meaning, listening and evolving, reacting to whoever has them in their custody. Rippling with intensity, his unification of thousands of fragments of metal to create a metamorphic whole has become fundamental to our understanding of the sculptural object and its ability to evolve.
Actively exploring the Scottish Mission Book Depot archives that provided Anatsui’s books and crayons as a child, the exhibition will provide an in-depth exposure to an artist whose critical response to the colonial project is well overdue a large-scale celebration in the UK. Born in Ghana in 1944 during the British colonial period, El Anatsui’s life and artistic practice is driven by a desire to extend the boundaries of art: in Edinburgh, the wooden reliefs, prints, and lava-like metallic forms will cascade off the walls and outdoor space of the University, embedding the exhibition in a city that nestles within a former volcano, where layers of stratigraphy in cliff-faces interrupt the horizon.
In 2015, El Anatsui (b. 1944, Anyako, Ghana) was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, the Venice Biennale’s highest honour. Anatsui’s solo exhibition Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui, was organized by the Akron Art Museum, Akron, Ohio (2012), and travelled to the Brooklyn Museum, New York and the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa (2013); then to the Bass Museum of Art in Miami, Florida (2014); and concluded at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, California (2015). In 2019, El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale, a major career survey curated by Okwui Enwezor, opened at Haus der Kunst and travelled to Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Kunstmuseum Bern and Guggenheim Bilbao in 2020. El Anatsui is 2023 artist for the Hyundai Commission at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.
Forthcoming, will be available when the exhibition opens.