Take a look at what we created with trash

CityPress - - News - GARRETH VAN NIEK­ERK garreth.van­niek­erk@city­press.co.za

In the space of three weeks, Ghana­ian sculp­tor El Anat­sui has been awarded two hon­orary doc­tor­ates.

Af­ter join­ing Hol­ly­wood film direc­tor Steven Spiel­berg as an hon­oured alum­nus at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity in the US on May 26, he was again hon­oured on Fri­day at a grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony held at the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town (UCT).

The no­to­ri­ously pri­vate Anat­sui spoke to City Press ex­clu­sively this week about his first time in South Africa and on life as the con­ti­nent’s most fa­mous artist.

“I got to know South Africa long ago as a kid through mu­sic,” he said. “Ra­dio Ghana used to have a pro­gramme called Way Down South that played South African mu­sic for 30 min­utes every Satur­day, which I was ad­dicted to. So I grew up know­ing names like Dorothy Ma­suka, Kip­pie Moeketsi, Lit­tle Lemmy and Big Joe, Ma­hotella Queens, Jazz Epis­tles, Miriam Makeba and, of course, Hugh Masekela and Ab­dul­lah Ibrahim, whose ca­reers I fol­low closely.”

In Nige­ria, where Anat­sui has been based for most of his pro­fes­sional ca­reer, up to 40 young peo­ple as­sist at any given time in his stu­dio to craft his sig­na­ture sculp­tural works, made from re­cy­cled liquor bot­tle tops and cop­per wire. When the thou­sands of pieces are con­nected to­gether, they cre­ate a shim­mer­ing tex­tile that can some­times stretch for 16m, and have been hung at every ma­jor mu­seum in the world, from the Smith­so­nian in Wash­ing­ton, DC, to the Vat­i­can Mu­se­ums in Rome.

“The idea that is be­hind all of my work is to find a sculp­tural form which is free, which is mu­ta­ble and vari­able, and I found it in the bot­tle-cap pieces. I got tired of stat­ues of ‘knights on horses’ in bronze or on the walls of mu­se­ums, which have been the fare for cen­turies, es­pe­cially in West­ern art. I thought that if art is re­garded as life, it should re­flect the dy­namic and con­stantly chang­ing na­ture of it, and not freeze just a mo­ment of it. I want my art forms to repli­cate that kind of qual­ity.”

His art, in the way it trans­forms the waste of West­ern prod­ucts such as tin cans into mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar works of art, is of­ten hailed by African crit­ics for its political mes­sag­ing, a sort of de­colonis­ing project.

“I be­lieve that hu­man be­ings, given ab­so­lute free­dom to roam their imag­i­na­tion, will tend to go back to servi­tude and com­fort of the known,” he says.

“They’re not used to fac­ing new sit­u­a­tions. That is what I have dis­cov­ered from the kind of work I do.”

The 72-year-old fondly re­mem­bers his own grad­u­a­tion in 1969 from the Kwame Nkrumah Uni­ver­sity of Science and Tech­nol­ogy, but thinks that the event it­self could do with some up­dat­ing.

“I think grad­u­a­tion cer­e­monies need to be sim­pler and more at­tuned for sober re­flec­tion. There is too much razzmatazz to it. I would’ve pre­ferred some­thing more sub­tle and spir­i­tual. That is a time that grad­u­ates are sup­posed to start think­ing about the debt they owe to mankind as peo­ple who have re­ceived some en­light­en­ment.”

While noth­ing of­fi­cial had been de­cided yet, Anat­sui said, there could be a South African ex­hi­bi­tion on the cards in the near fu­ture.

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

An in­stal­la­tion of large-scale ‘ta­pes­tries’ and other sculp­tural forms made of dis­carded ma­te­ri­als, mostly metal

PHOTO: PIERRE OLTZ PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

A woman looks at a sculp­ture by El Anat­sui ALL THAT GLIS­TENS A vis­i­tor ad­mires El Anat­sui’s works of art dur­ing the press pre­view for Art Basel at Basel Messe in Switzer­land this week

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

A sculp­ture made of bot­tle tops, by El Anat­sui, at the Smith­so­nian Na­tional Mu­seum of African Art in the US

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