March 18–July 29, 2012
El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa traces the prolific career of El Anatsui—one of contemporary art’s most celebrated practitioners—from his early woodwork in Ghana to today’s metal wall sculptures created in his studio in Nigeria, offering an unprecedented chance for visitors to follow the artist’s creative development over 40 years.
Of the over 60 works, the exhibition includes eight spectacular metal wall sculptures in the same style as the NCMA’s own stunning El Anatsui sculpture in West Building—Lines That Link Humanity—a visitor favorite.
This expansive exhibition traces four decades of Anatsui’s prolific career, including his early work making use of traditional symbols in Ghana; driftwood pieces created in Denmark; chainsaw-carved wood work, metal assemblages, and draping bottle-top sculptures produced in Nigeria. Anatsui’s metal sculptures—constructed from thousands of Nigerian liquor bottle tops pieced together—transform a simple material into a stunning monumental form. While many of his works make use of found objects—including bottle caps, milk tins, and cassava graters—the artist says that his sculptures are less about recycling or salvaging than about seeking meaning in the ways materials can be transformed to make statements about history, culture, and memory.
When I Last Wrote to You about Africa provides visitors with the opportunity to view not only the spectacular metal sculptures for which Anatsui has received widespread acclaim, but also his works from a long and rich creative practice. Included are paintings and drawings from various stages in the artist’s career. The subtle gestures in these works demonstrate the artist’s method and practice.
Featuring 61 individual works, When I Last Wrote to You about Africa is the most comprehensive retrospective of Anatsui’s work to date. The exhibition includes ceramic pots and wall sculptures, monumental floor installations, paintings and drawings, wooden wall and floor works, metal wall and floor sculptures, and large-scale installations. Many of the loans are from the artist’s own collection and have never been seen outside of Africa before this retrospective.
When I Last Wrote to You about Africa is part of the Museum’s ongoing commitment to present work by internationally recognized contemporary artists and to highlight the variety and historical depth of art and artists from diverse cultures and regions represented in the Museum’s permanent collection. In 2008 the Museum commissioned Anatsui to create Lines That Link Humanity, a wall sculpture specially made for the opening of the Museum’s West Building.
Organized by the Museum for African Art, New York. Supported, in part, by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts.
In Raleigh support is provided by Lord Corporation. This exhibition is also made possible, in part, by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, the North Carolina Museum of Art Foundation, Inc., and the William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment for Educational Exhibitions.