On the flight from New York to Johannesburg (“Jo-burg” as the locals call it), I thought about Africa and wondered whether I might find echoes of the colors, textures, and imagery in El Anatsui’s work during my travels. A vast continent—the artist’s homeland of Ghana is almost 3,000 miles from South Africa, yet the possibility of finding some sort of connection intrigued me.
The moments on the Eastern Cape where I discovered reminders of some of my favorite works of art from El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa were surprising. The rocks on the beach at Cape Vidal looked to me like Akua’s Surviving Children—deep brown formations being battered by the sea. The houses scattered on the hillsides in KwaZulu-Natal brought to mind the placement and shapes of Open(ing) Market; the colorful beadwork by native craftspeople, reminiscent of those spectacular wall sculptures. And most enchantingly, the tin can tops of Peak Project turned into musical instruments, strapped to the ankles of the revered Sangomas (traditional Zulu healers) as they danced.
This is not to suggest the homogeneity of the continent, rather the connections that help us relate—people to people. As Anatsui said, “I think the most important thing is that one is able to reach or communicate but not necessarily on the basis of one’s geography.” Through my American eyes, these small jewels of resonance were sweet reminders of home.
Melanie Davis-Jones recently returned from a trip to South Africa.