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Shimmering Trash & Violent Teeth: El Anatsui

Our guest blogger today is Katie Moore, an intern this summer in the Public Affairs department.

“Trash” is not the first thing that comes to mind when viewing El Anatsui’s Duvor. Its undulating, shimmering, and intricately assembled and designed form suggests anything but trash to me. I am aware of the statement El Anatsui is making by creating this textile, however, I cannot help thinking that a mystery serpent is slithering around naked somewhere, having molted his fabulously marked skin and leaving it in the hands of the IMA’s contemporary collection. This shed skin is, in fact, made up of thousands of flattened bottle caps sewn together with copper wire.  Viewed up close, there is no mistaking the flattened Castello beer bottle caps, connected by small pieces of copper wire twisted at the end. Viewed at a distance, Castello’s brand name and copper wire disappear. Duvor undergoes an amazing evolution as you take more and more steps backward.  What was once obvious transforms into a beautiful golden tapestry, causing you to question its materials and return once more to the up close and personal position. I call this optical illusion a “Monet,” for obvious reasons.

Fortunately Duvor is not the only artwork of El Anatsui’s housed in the IMA. One floor below the Contemporary Collection is the newly redesigned Eiteljorg Suite of African and Oceanic Art. Here you will find Sacred Comb.

 This is an artwork not easily skimmed over. The violent teeth of the comb stopped me in my tracks. My eye immediately moved from the bottom of the four most distinctive teeth to the midsection where Anatsui has burned repetitive linear patterns into the wood, trapping my eye.  These linear patterns are said to resemble designs found in textiles, body art, and sculpture from southeast Nigeria, where Anatsui spent much of his life teaching. Sacred Comb is complex and takes a while to explore. The bold colors included are surprising and unexpected, pleasant even. To me, this artwork is exciting and dynamic with aspects of both violence and playfulness within its composition.

El Anatsui, "Sacred Comb," 1992. Gift of the Alliance of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. 1999.77.

This Sunday, June 24 at 2 pm, the IMA will screen Fold Crumple Crush, a film that offers an insider’s view of the El Anatsui’s practice and life over the course of three years. Stop by the galleries before to see his powerful works up close, then head to the Toby to learn more about Africa’s most widely acclaimed contemporary artist. Hopefully, I’ll see you there!

Filed under: Art, Contemporary, Film, Textile & Fashion, The Collection

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