I first learned about Ghanaian artist El Anatsui in a French literature course that focused on francophone and African writers. Immediately, I was enamored by his ability to create something completely new, and beautiful, with old materials. Aside from the stunning nature of his work, his ability to take trash and turn it into an expressive work of art is is inherently inspiring.
During my trip to the Brooklyn Museum last week, I checked out the Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui exhibit. El Anatsui’s first solo exhibit in New York, Gravity and Grace will be making it’s way through the Brooklyn Museum and then onto Des Moines and Miami.
When you first walk into the exhibit, you’re greeted by multiple installations hanging below a beautiful skylight on the fifth floor of the museum. In the natural light, it’s a magical feeling to walk through these net-like fabrics made from recycled bottle caps. Involuntarily, your eyes move up and down the dramatic textile, until you move closer and closer to inspect the individual pieces of which is it made.
Walking deeper into the show, there are even more breathtaking wall installations, reminiscent of kente cloth, with their vibrant patterns. On the floor are multiple constructions built with a golden, metallic fabric created from aluminum can tops linked together. The strength of this “fabric” allows El Anatsui to erect mountain-like domes, once again to helping us find beauty in waste.
Ozone Layer was my favorite piece, a wall installation that incorporated fans behind the cloth, giving it a subtle, yet distinct movement. The web-like nature of the fabric, coupled with the fans alluding to oxygen and breath, offered an earthier feel to El Anatsui’s recycled creation.
In all of the interview footage shown in the exhibit, El Anatsui always comes across as so laid back, and simultaneously overflowing with vision. This ability to create beauty from near nothingness seems so natural to him. Where others see refuse, he clearly sees potential. Potential for vibrant fabrics made entirely from bottle caps, draped in such a way that makes them seem so soft, like a blanket to crawl under. Potential for discarded cans to become glittering mountains. Potential for waste to become, not only useful, but beautiful once more.
Gravity and Grace is at the Brooklyn Museum until August 18, 2013.