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ICC to Present World Premiere Retrospective of Ghanaian Artist
El Anatsui, Sacred Moon, 2007. Aluminum and copper wire, 103 x 141 in. Photo courtesy: Jack Shainman Gallery.

TORONTO.- The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) presents the world premiere of El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa, a career retrospective of Ghanaian visual artist El Anatsui. Presented by the Institute for Contemporary Culture (ICC) at the ROM, this exhibition is the artist’s first solo show in Canada. Featuring 63 works in various media drawn from public and private collections internationally, El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa will be on display in the Roloff Beny Gallery on Level 4 of the ROM’s Michael Lee-Chin Crystal from October 2, 2010 to January 2, 2011.

This retrospective has been organized by the Museum for African Art (MfAA), in New York, and will be one of the inaugural exhibitions in the MfAA’s new building, which opens in April 2011.

Drawing on Ghanaian and Nigerian cultural references as well as global, local and personal histories, El Anatsui’s body of work comprises large shimmering metallic tapestries, for which he is best known, as well as paintings and sculptures in wood, ceramic and metal.

“The ROM is honoured to present the beautiful work of El Anatsui, who is considered one of Africa’s most influential artists and a significant cultural protagonist. With its position as an emerging global market, its unique history and pressing current social issues, the world’s eyes are on Africa. Our hope is that this exhibition, as well as the robust series of programs planned for this fall, will illuminate Africa’s rich and diverse modern culture,” said William Thorsell, ROM Director and CEO.

Constructed from found objects and everyday materials, Anatsui’s stunningly original sculptures evoke memories of Africa’s past and present. When I Last Wrote to You about Africa brings together the full range of the artist’s oeuvre, from early works in ceramic and wood to the internationally celebrated metal wall sculptures of recent years. The exhibition illuminates the great diversity of materials in which Anatsui has worked, among them mortars, the lids of evaporated-milk tins, cassava graters, driftwood, and obituary-notice printing plates. The retrospective will thus enable visitors to observe the development of the artist’s ideas over four decades, bringing to light his multilayered narratives, which refer to the complex histories, themes, and social issues that shape personal, cultural, and historical identities.

The exhibition includes nine of Anatsui’s acclaimed massive wall tapestries. These are made of salvaged liquor-bottle caps that have been flattened, folded and/or twisted, then stitched together with copper wire. These large-scale, colourful metallic tapestries recall the Ghanaian tradition of weaving and assembling the brightly coloured, hand-woven fabrics known as kente cloths.

In the 1970s, Anatsui began to manipulate broken ceramic fragments. With their allusions to ancient Nok terracotta sculptures, West African myths about the earth, and cultural references to the use of clay, the ceramic works piece together shattered ideas and histories. His wooden sculptures from this period created by chopping, carving, burning and etching, allude to signs and symbols from various cultures and languages from across the globe.

The 1990s marked a crucial shift from working with hand tools to carving with a power saw, which enabled the artist to cut through blocks of wood, leaving a jagged surface. In some compositions these dramatic incisions stand for the scars left by the European colonial encounter with Africa.

The colours and patterns in Anatsui’s gestural acrylic paintings and ink drawings, made at various points during his career and shown here outside of Nigeria for the first time, resonate with his work in other materials. These vibrant and beautiful works subtly unify the retrospective, referencing Anatsui’s larger themes and revealing much about the artist’s process over nearly 40 years.

The Royal Ontario Museum | Institute for Contemporary Culture | "El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa" |

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