El Anatsui’s world of metal tops at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall

Hyundai Commisson 2023, El Anatsui, Behind The Red Moon, Tate Modern
Author Anzhela Popova
Category Culture, Lifestyle, News
Date April 2 2024
Reading Time 3 min.

El Anatsui’s world of metal tops at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall

 

El Anatsui's world of metal tops at the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall | London Cult.
Hyundai Commisson 2023, El Anatsui, Behind The Red Moon, Tate Modern©Tate (Joe Humphrys)

Ghanaian-born El Anatsui, Africa’s most influential contemporary artist, is known worldwide for his monumental sculptures. His “curtains” made of thousands of metal bottle caps and shards intertwine ethnic traditions and the universal language of abstraction.

West Africa gained independence only recently, in the 1960s and 1970s. Alnatsui’s work reflects a range of political, social and environmental issues relevant to the last decades. The artist works with a wide range of forms and materials, including wood, ceramics and ‘found’ objects. Since the late 1990s, he has been experimenting with liquor bottle caps and continues to push the boundaries of this material. Anatsui’sstudio is supported by dozens of assistants and they work together to stitch and assemble his metal works.

Alnatsui’s series of new sculptures, consisting of three huge abstract compositions, is the artist’s largest work to date. These undulating forms cut through the vast industrial space of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall and invite reflection on the vastness of human history and the elemental power of nature. Each sculpture references themes of the movement and migration of goods and people during the transatlantic slave trade. This is a three-act journey through Anatsui’s dynamic metal sculptures.

El Anatsui's world of metal tops at the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall | London Cult.
Hyundai Commission: El Anatsui: Behind the Red MoonInstallation View. Photo © Tate (Ben Fisher Photography)

The first hanging, titled ‘The Red Moon’, resembles the majestic sail of a ship billowing out in the wind, announcing the beginning of a journey across the Atlantic Ocean. Red liquor bottle tops form the outline of a red moon, or ‘bloodmoon’, as it appears during a lunar eclipse.

Multi-layered sculpture ‘The World’ evokes human figures suspended in a restless state. The ethereal appearance of these figures is achieved using thin bottle-top seals wired together to create a net-like material. When viewed from a particular vantage point, these scattered shapes come together into a single circular form of the Earth.

El Anatsui's world of metal tops at the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall | London Cult.
Hyundai Commisson 2023, El Anatsui, Behind The Red Moon, Tate Modern. Photo ©Tate (Joe Humphrys)

In Anatsui’s work ‘The Wall’, a monumental black sheet of metal cloth stretches from floor to ceiling. At its base, crashing waves and craggy peaks made of bottle caps rise from the ground, while beyond the black surface a thin structure of shimmering silver is revealed, covered in a mosaic of multi-coloured pieces. This combination of lines and waves, blackness and technicolour echoes the theme of the clash of global cultures that Anatsui invites us to contemplate.

El Anatsui's world of metal tops at the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall | London Cult.
Hyundai Commission: El Anatsui: Behind the Red MoonInstallation View. Photo © Tate (Ben Fisher Photography)

If you look at all three sculptures from afar, you can see a landscape of symbols: moon, sail, wave, land and wall. Up close, the logos on the bottle caps speak to the social history of the material, referring to a contemporary industry built on colonial trade routes. The past and present of Africa and Europe converge in symphonic sculptural forms that hang in the air and seem to float in space.

Through the poetic use of material as metaphor, the installation explores elemental forces intertwined with human stories of power, oppression, diffusion and survival. Embodying Anatsui’s idea of ‘unfixed form’, his works are easily folded to travel and look new each time they are installed. In this case, the artist gives freedom to the curators.

Interested in the changing history of the objects he reuses, Anatsui connects local aesthetic traditions with the global history of abstraction. His choice of materials embodies ideas that have shaped the artist’s career over several decades: the evolution of human civilisation, African decolonisationmovements, the history of migration, and life’s existential journeys

El Anatsui's world of metal tops at the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall | London Cult.
Hyundai Commission: El Anatsui: Behind the Red Moon, Installation View, Photo ©Tate (Joe Humphrys)

Hyundai Commission: El Anatsui: Behind the Red Moon is in partnership with Hyundai Motor with additional support from the El Anatsui Supporters Circle and Tate Americas Foundation. It is curated by Osei Bonsu, Curator, International Art, and Dina Akhmadeeva, Assistant Curator, International Art, Tate Modern.

October 10, 2023 – April 14, 2024

Turbine Hall, Tate Modern

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