Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- The artist and his assistants flattened and folded aluminum bottle tops and tied them together using copper wire. The pieces were then arranged into interlocking forms, each section interrupted by multicolored vertical strips of smaller bottle tops to create contrast. The different sections of the sculpture are punctuated and textured yet unified by using the same material.
- El Anatsui was almost in high school when Ghana gained its independence from Britain. The surge of African pride, Ghanaian and Nigerian nationalism, and the desire to make something new out of elements of African culture after colonialism was a sentiment shared by many African artists in the mid-20th century.
- Anatsui’s work expresses the history of the transatlantic slave trade, the current daily realities of global trade systems, and the desire to create new cultural material in Africa. The bottle tops used in this sculpture are part of a present-day industry built on colonial trade routes for slave labor, sugar, and rum.
Since 1974 El Anatsui (originally from Ghana) has lived in Nsukka, Nigeria, where he is an art educator at the University of Nigeria-Nsukka. Primarily a sculptor, the artist has been well-known in the African art community for decades, especially for his wood sculptures, many of which were made from discarded wood materials.
“Recycling and reuse” is a theme that appears throughout his most recent body of work, for which he has received international recognition and acclaim. Clothlike metal sculptures are carefully constructed by hand using discarded bottle caps and liquor packaging and then pieced together to create large, draping sculptures. When hung on the wall, these sculptures appear to be shimmering veils or waving tapestries. The artist’s early works created from these types of materials were inspired by Ghanaian kente cloth; his sculptures evoke the colors and patterns of this traditional form of weaving. His work also calls attention to the social and economic history of West Africa, specifically Ghana, where liquor was once traded for enslaved human beings. Often this same liquor was made from sugar cane in the Caribbean that had been harvested by enslaved African people. The title Lines That Link Humanity suggests the interconnected histories, fates, and circumstances of people and cultures worldwide.
This work is unique among Anatsui’s metal sculptures in that it is site responsive, which means it was commissioned from the artist and designed with its specific setting in mind. Lines That Link Humanity is the result of an extended interaction between the NCMA and the artist.
tags: fabric, textiles, environment, collaboration, movement, part/whole, place
Resources for Teachers:
- Read an article about El Anatsui.
- Look at another work by Anatsui from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Watch a film clip of the artist talking about his work.
Resources for Students: