Large Sculptures by One of Africa's Leading Contemporary Artists Go On View at National Museum of African Art March 12

March 10, 2008
News Release

Large-scale metal "tapestries" and other sculptures by one of Africa's leading contemporary artists will be on view at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art from March 12 through Sept. 7. "El Anatsui: Gawu" is El Anatsui's first solo exhibition in the United States. (The artist is at the museum for two weeks early this month to install his works and participate in public programs, during which time he is available for interviews.)

A native of Ghana who has been living in Nigeria since 1975, El Anatsui has experimented throughout the years with a variety of media, including wood, ceramics and paint. Most recently, he has focused on discarded metal objects, hundreds or even thousands of which are joined together to create remarkable works of art that celebrate Africa's rich artistic and cultural heritage.

The word "gawu" in the title of the exhibition is derived from El Anatsui's native language, Ewe. It has several meanings, including "metal" and "a fashioned cloak." The term, according to the exhibition text, "manages to encapsulate the medium, process and format of the works on view, reflecting the artist's transformation of discarded materials into objects of striking beauty and originality."

"El Anatsui: Gawu" features such objects as wrappers from flattened metal liquor bottles, tops from food tins and other discarded metals that are tied together to resemble metallic weavings that simultaneously reflect the tradition of Ghanaian strip cloths and the abstraction of modernist paintings. Drawing from the aesthetic traditions of his native Ghana and adopted Nigeria, as well as contemporary Western forms of expression, El Anatsui creates works that engage the cultural, social and economic histories of West Africa. Through their associations, his metal fragments provide a sharply critical commentary on the adverse effects of globalization, consumerism and waste in contemporary West Africa and beyond. Their recreation as powerful and transcendent works of art—many of which recall traditional practices and art forms—also suggests the power of human agency to alter such harmful patterns.

In "Crumbling Wall," the artist transforms old grates into an architectural form comprised entirely of densely perforated sheets of rusted metal. Another work, "Wastepaper Basket," is an 8-foot-tall sculpture of an oversized wastepaper basket made from discarded printing plates used for newspaper obituary pages. "Adrinkra Sasa" is a large-scale metal "textile" reminiscent of the Ghanaian stamped and dyed adrinkra textiles worn especially at funerals.

In addition, during the run of the exhibition, the museum also will display El Anatsui's "Nukae," which is on long-term loan from art collectors Gilbert and Doreen Bassin.

Educational Programs
In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum will offer a discussion series entitled "Global Green: Africa Responds" sponsored by the Coca Cola Company. The artist will participate in several public events; check the museum's Web site ( for information. Other related activities include "Sounds of Africa" April 12 at 2 p.m., a musical craft show in which Abu the Flute Maker brings discarded materials to life. The film "Baba Mandela" will be screened March 29 at 2 p.m. Lisa Meadowcroft, executive director of African Medical and Research Foundation USA, will introduce the film. "Reuse It or Lose It," held May 17 at noon, is a workshop for visitors ages 7 and older that encourages the use of African fabrics, buttons and other recycled materials to create African doll puppets. Reservations are required for the workshop; call (202) 633-4640.

Sponsors and Catalogue
"El Anatsui: Gawu" is an Oriel Mostyn Gallery Touring Exhibition and was generously supported by the Arts Council of Wales. Additional funding was provided by Wales Arts International. Exhibition text was developed by the Fowler Museum at UCLA and Oriel Mostyn Gallery.

A full-color, 48-page publication, with contributions from Gerald Houghton, Atta Kwami and Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie, accompanies the exhibition.

About the National Museum of African Art
The National Museum of African Art is America's only museum dedicated to the collection, conservation, study and exhibition of traditional and contemporary African art. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Dec. 25. Admission is free. The museum is located at 950 Independence Ave. S.W., near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information about this exhibition, call (202) 633-4600 or visit the museum's Web site at For general Smithsonian information, call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 633-5285.

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Note to Editors: Selected high-resolution images for publicity only may be downloaded from The password is anatsui. Call Kimberly Mayfield at (202) 633-4649 for more information.