El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born 1944) 'The Pilgrims' in 18 pieces

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Lot 1
El Anatsui
(Ghanaian, born 1944)
'The Pilgrims' in 18 pieces

Sold for £ 32,500 (US$ 41,817) inc. premium
El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born 1944)
'The Pilgrims'
each piece numbered (verso)
carved wood relief with acrylic
52.5 x 170.5cm (20 11/16 x 67 1/8in).
in 18 pieces

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Purchased by the current owner from Signature Gallery, Lagos circa 1990.

    El Anatsui began his artistic training at the College of Art, University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, where he was given a grounding in Western art traditions and practices. Wanting to connect with the arts of his own country, he began to visit the Kumasi National Cultural Centre on weekends. Here he was exposed to weavers, potters, cloth-printers and carvers, all working in indigenous methods. El Anatsui began to incorporate elements from these crafts into his own work, forging a distinctly Ghanaian aesthetic.

    The Pilgrims demonstrates the artist's attempt to express his Ghanaian identity through these native disciplines. In Anatsui's hands, as Elizabeth Péri-Willis has described, "wood becomes cloth bearing the traces of codes, scripts and ideograms". This effect is commonly achieved with the use of a rotary saw to create "dense hatched patterns reminiscent of the warps and wefts of woven cloth-based themes", a technique which emphasises the connections between Anatsui's wall pieces and adinkra and kente cloths. The artist's Ewe heritage - in which there is a strong tradition of narrow strip weaving - is further emphasised in the title of the work. The Ewe people have a strong heritage of movement and migration, which Anatsui reflects in a number of his wall hangings dealing with journeys. We can therefore see The Pilgrims as an attempt to reclaim that lost history, using the traditional media of its people.

    However, this piece is not a rejection of the modern. The planks of wood have been cut with a chainsaw, and blackened with an acetylene torch. For El Anatsui, the chainsaw has symbolic significance: the tearing of the saw through wood is "a metaphor for the way in which the western powers had carved up and brutally divided the African continent amongst themselves, ripping through and destroying both local history and culture".

    Bibliography
    L. Binder, El Anatsui: When I last wrote to you about Africa, (Seattle, 2010).
    E. A. Péri-Willis, 'Chambers of Memory', in J. Picton (ed.), El Anatsui: A sculpted history of Africa, (London, 1998).
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