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Black History Month, day 8

I was so sleepy last night that I fell asleep while writing this. I’m not feeling so well tonight either, so tomorrow I will post two.

Did you ever read the fairy tales where someone spins flax into gold? El Anatsui reminds me of that person. With the help of many assistants, he gathers up the trash left by civilization and weaves it into something rich and beautiful.

The artist’s website

Often his material is related to alcohol. It’s the tops of beer bottles, the labels of liquor bottles, which evoke both the problem of alcoholism in the community today, and the role of alcohol in the transatlantic slave trade that had such a drastic effect on his homeland.

One doesn’t have to be a scholar of West African folk art to recognize kente cloth and appreciate its beauty. But looking at Anatsui’s work is enriched by knowing that kente is a characteristic art form of the people of the region. (El Anatsui was born and raised in Ghana, and has made Nigeria his home since he was about age 30.) Different weaves are considered men’s or women’s patterns, to which he is surely referring when he calls a piece “Men’s Cloth.”

There’s also an element of collaboration in his sculptures, or perhaps I should say “installations,” since he delivers the enormous metal weavings to the exhibit site and gives the curator considerable discretion in how to drape them. Like fabric, each has infinite possible forms. His letting go of control over them is a model the viewer can emulate.

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