El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born 1944) 'Al Haji' 184 x 80 x 28cm (72 7/16 x 31 1/2 x 11in).

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Lot 9W
El Anatsui
(Ghanaian, born 1944)
'Al Haji' 184 x 80 x 28cm (72 7/16 x 31 1/2 x 11in).

Sold for £ 146,500 (US$ 195,279) inc. premium
El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born 1944)
'Al Haji'
signed 'EL 90' (18th plank from base)
carved and incised wood
184 x 80 x 28cm (72 7/16 x 31 1/2 x 11in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Acquired from the artist circa 1992.
    A private collection.

    Exhibited
    Lagos, National Museum, Old and New: An Exhibition of Sculpture in Assorted Wood, March 1991.


    Born in Anyako, Ghana in 1944, El Anatsui was the youngest of thirty-two children. As a young child he quickly learned to distinguish himself from his family members through drawing. He was encouraged to study art at the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi. Shortly after graduation, he was appointed to teach at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, a position he would hold for the next thirty-five years.

    El Anatsui produced a number of figurative sculptures in the early 1990s that make use of uli and nsibidi graphic systems (native to the Igbo and Cross River areas of Nigeria). The works are carved from discarded mortars originally used for palm oil extraction. The present lot resembles one illustrated in the Museum of African Art's exhibition catalogue, 'El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa'. Titled 'Adinsibuli Stood Tall' (cat. No.44), the sculpture represents a female figure. Her name, Adinsibuli, is an amalgamation of the three written languages that adorn the surface of her body: adinkra, nsibidi and uli.

    The artist's process of naming each sculpture is gradual and organic; the title evolves as the piece is developed, only becoming fixed upon completion, but often remaining intentionally ambiguous. The title of the present lot 'Alhaji' derives from the Arabic 'hajja' ('to make pilgrimage'). It is an reverential title given to Muslims who have completed the journey to Mecca. Traditionally, the word 'alhaji' was used to convey respect, primarily for an elder. However, in recent years it has also become a derogatory term used by some Western military personnel towards Muslims. In choosing such an ambiguous title, the artist encourages us to look at the work in greater depth, and appreciate the multiple and often contradictory interpretations of language:

    "Multiple and flexible meanings are attractive to me...this fits in well with what I want my sculpture to do: to provide open situations that people can interpret in their own way" (El Anatsui, interview in 2007).

    Since his first participation in the Venice Biennale in 1990, El Anatsui has achieved international fame. His works can now be found in collections around the world including the British Museum in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. In April 2014, he was elected an honorary Royal Academician, and was awarded the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale in 2015.

    Bibliography
    L. Binder (ed.), El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You About Africa, (New York, 2010) p.20.
Contacts
El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born 1944) 'Al Haji' 184 x 80 x 28cm (72 7/16 x 31 1/2 x 11in).
El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born 1944) 'Al Haji' 184 x 80 x 28cm (72 7/16 x 31 1/2 x 11in).
El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born 1944) 'Al Haji' 184 x 80 x 28cm (72 7/16 x 31 1/2 x 11in).
El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born 1944) 'Al Haji' 184 x 80 x 28cm (72 7/16 x 31 1/2 x 11in).
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