photo: KIOKU Keizo

Empty Vessel

Material/ Techniquesteel, copper wire
Size/ DurationH104.5×W388×D139cm
Copyright Notice© El ANATSUI
Year of acquisition/ donation2015
DescriptionBorn in Anyako, Ghana in 1944. Lives and works in Nsukka, Nigeria.

Af ter studying sculpture at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Ghana), El Anatsui began producing wooden sculptures showing the influence of dyed fabrics and traditional decorative patterns. In 1975 he moved to Nsukka after becoming a professor at the University of Nigeria. Since around 2000 he has been creating installation works suggestive of tapestries using metal caps from beverage bottles and other scrap materials. In 2015 he was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale.

"Perspectives" is a monumental installation work made by linking one by one using copper wire the discarded caps of liquor bottles. Four designs are arranged along the bottom in appreciation of the fact that different perspectives make up the world and to demonstrate that all are equally beautiful. Anatsui began actively incorporating the aluminum caps in his work in around 2000 after they caught his attention as a material that was not only easy to work with but also readily available. The construction technique is similar to the handicraft technique of patchwork that involves sewing together scraps of fabric to produce larger designs. In the case of Anatsui’s ‘patchwork,’ however, the softness that is a characteristic of aluminum allows shapes to be created to a certain extent without inserting a core, enabling the creation of large, flexible pieces. After being laid out, the pieces can be molded even further, with three-dimensionality and depth added by incorporating creases across their entirety. "Empty Vessel" is made of rust-covered pieces of sheet metal joined together with copper wire. He used as his materials the pieces of sheet metal with fine holes that were once used to grate cassava roots. What is striking about these pieces of metal, which are left exposed to the elements and decay over time, is that they exude fragility and warmth as opposed to toughness and coldness.