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Profile: El Anatsui (Ghana)

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El Anatsui: Undercurrents, African Hardwoods, 60 x 158 cm, 1994

El Anatsui, one of West Africa's most renowned sculptors has worked, lectured and exhibited throughout Europe, West Africa and the United States. Lecturing at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka, he has represented Nigeria at the Venice Biennial of 1990, and again in Japan, where his work sculpture won a coveted prize and most recently in Copenhagen, Denmark.

El Anatsui uses the power of modern tools, particularly the chain saw, to create works of startling originality in wood. Beginning with pieces of wood bound together into a frieze, he hacks, burns, incises and paints until the many fragments yield a lyrical whole. His earliest works were made entirely with the use of a chain saw. Now, however, he also uses precision power equipment to incise more intricate, finely engraved graphic designs into his work. Most recently he has begun to add rich depths of complexity to his work by the addition of colour to the surface of the wood.

El Anatsui's work show s a pre-occupation with tradition and change.According to the sculptor himself art is concerned with the search for new approaches, fresh ways of phrasing old statements. In his combination of old woodworking traditions with contemporary power tools, his conceptual debts to cubism and constructivism as well as to Uli and Nok sculpture Anatsui shows himself to be a prime example of the transvangarde artist whose work continues to explore the interface that bounds separate but quite contiguous worlds.

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