Triumphant Scale, the largest ever survey mounted of the work of acclaimed Ghanaian artist El Anatsui – Africa’s most prominent living artist, opened this week at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition was officially opened by HE Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani, and attended by a number of VIP guests led by Ahmad Al Namla, Qatar Museums Acting CEO.

The exhibition was curated by the late Okwui Enwezor, poet, art critic, art historian, and curator, together with Chika Okeke-Agulu, Professor of Art History at the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University. The exhibition focuses on the triumphant and monumental quality of Anatsui’s sculptures.

El Anatsui Triumphant ScaleThe exhibition encompasses every medium in the artist’s prodigious 50-year career, including the signature bottle-cap series he developed over the last two decades, wood sculptures and wall reliefs spanning from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s, ceramic sculptures of the late 1970s, as well as drawings, prints and books. The exhibition is spread across ten separate gallery spaces in Mathaf.

Amongst the works is Logoligi Logarithm, a specially created installation for the gallery’s performance space. Structurally related to his 2010 work Gli (Wall), the diaphanous form is achieved through the stitching patterns developed by Anatsui and his assistants using thin bottle cap seals. Logoligi Logarithm’s alluring play of light and material recalls the refraction of sunlight in a mist or fog. The work is dedicated to the Ghanaian poet, Atukwei Okai, who died in 2018.

Mathaf Director Abdellah Karroum said they are proud that Mathaf is hosting this important exhibition, the first major show in the Middle East for El Anatsui, now regarded as one of Africa’s greatest living artists.

This exhibition also stands for the close working relationship we have enjoyed with Okwui Enwezor over many years.  We are grateful for the immense legacy he has left us as an art historian and curator. We look forward to welcoming audiences in Doha for what we believe will be a boundary breaking exhibition for the region and a fitting celebration of a great artist.’

Transforming Formal Possibilities of African Sculptural Idioms

El Anatsui has consistently worked to transform the formal possibilities of African sculptural idioms. Over 50 years, he has repeatedly revised and reinvented his material and compositional techniques to astonishing effect – from the early smaller wooden reliefs with their incised markings and broken ceramic forms, to the monumental outdoor cement sculptures, and, more recently, the vast and spectacular metal wall and floor works, which blur the boundaries between sculpture, painting and assemblage. 

Dusasa II, 2007
Dusasa II, 2007 (Aluminium, copper wire and plastic discs) 
Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The artist generates meaning out of his material and technical process. For example, the bottle caps come from hard liquors introduced by Europeans as currency – and thus a means of subjugation – during the era of transatlantic slavery and colonisation. The process of cutting, flattening, squeezing, twisting, folding and stitching together with copper wire thousands of these bottle caps into a single work, speaks to the making of human communities out of connected individual subjectivities.

The exhibition is organised by Haus der Kunst, Munich in cooperation with Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, the Kunstmuseum Bern and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Following its showing at Mathaf, the exhibition will move to Kunstmuseum Bern from 13 March to 21 June 2020, and then to Guggenheim Bilbao from 17 July to 1 November 2020.

Prestel will publish a 320-page exhibition catalogue with extensive illustrations from the artist’s archive, authored by Okwui Enwezor and Okeke-Agulu. Visit here for more information about the exhibition.