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Major works at Carriageworks – contemporary art, everyday life

Presented from January 7 until March 6, 2016, El Anatsui: Five Decades includes more than 30 works from the 1970s to the current day, including ceramics, drawings, sculptures and woodcarvings, alongside the intricate and expansive, large-scale installations for which Anatsui is best known.

The project represents the first Schwartz Carriageworks project following the recent gift to Carriageworks of $500,000 by Anna Schwartz, director and founder of Anna Schwartz Gallery, to develop a new five-year series of major international and Australian visual arts projects.

Born in 1944 in Anyako, Ghana, Anatsui lives and works in Nsukka, Nigeria, and is recognised as one of the world’s leading contemporary artists, having been awarded the esteemed Gold Lion award at the 2015 Venice Biennale. Anatsui’s work combines the history and trajectory of abstract art with the local vernacular of Ghana and Nigeria.

Lisa Havilah, Director of Carriageworks, said: “El Anatsui: Five Decades is an ambitious project and reflects Carriageworks’ commitment to presenting the most ambitious contemporary art from around the world in Australia. This major exhibition continues our annual series presenting the major installations by the most exciting international visual artists working today.”

Five Decades demonstrates Anatsui’s ingenuity in working with repurposed materials including wood, aluminium printing plates, tin boxes and liquor bottle tops. In 1998 the chance discovery of a garbage bag of Nigerian alcohol bottle tops presented him with a new material with which he could produce an extraordinary range of effects. Flattened, folded and bound together with copper wire, the labels from whiskey, wine, rum, gin, brandy, vodka and schnapps – all produced in West Africa – reflected the stories of cultural exchange, consumption, colonialism and migration particular to the continent. The shimmering palette of these labels and evocative brand names including Dark Sailor, King Solomon, 007, Chairman and Makossa also added a new kind of graphic element to Anatsui’s work.

Many of Anatsui’s early ceramics, prints and sculptures incorporate West African adinkra symbols within their surfaces. Anatsui’s adaptions of the rich visual culture of Africa reaffirm that art is never stagnant nor determined, rather it is part of the changing rhythm of contemporary life. While many of his later works are monumental in scale, they are also handmade, shaped by human touch and individuality. From the walls to the floor the objects unfurl, expansive rather than confined, they suggest the contours of landscape, cartography, and the language of abstract painting.

Five Decades probes the histories of colonial and post-colonial Africa alongside themes of consumption, exchange and renewal and the limitless beauty found in the everyday. Anatsui’s art presents a coming together of cultures, artistic traditions and contemporary life.

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