Goodman Gallery is pleased to present Freedom, El Anatsui’s first major solo exhibition at Goodman Gallery Cape Town. With a career spanning five decades, El Anatsui is one of the most important contemporary artists — awarded the prestigious Praemium Imperiale alongside Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat in 2017, as well as the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, the Venice Biennale’s highest honour, in 2015. Anatsui is best known for his ability to meticulously transform simple materials into complex assemblages that create distinctive visual impact. Freedom follows El Anatsui’s comprehensive survey at the Haus der Kunst; El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale (2019), which travelled from Munich to Doha and Bern as well as his museum solo exhibition, Meyina (2018), at the Iziko National Gallery in Cape Town.
Bringing together a new body of work, the exhibition reflects Anatsui’s focus on scale, continuing his method of using materials ubiquitous and relevant to his environment. The exhibition title is a nod to Anatsui’s monumental tapestry of the same. In Freedom traces and outlines weave themselves into striking patterns that recall cartographic entanglements. An arrangement of aluminium, copper wire and nylon string creates pathways and routes that challenge spatial contours. Three birds are reflected in the work, which Anatsui refers to as “birds of freedom” or “birds with the freedom to soar” that challenge the many rules and regulations that restrict the free movement of people.
Sovereignty uses a combination of biotic, non-linear and ordered lines chaotically tangled to reflect the violently established laws that organise the flow of humans through restrictions, while also drawing attention to natural pathways and channels.
In Drying Line strings protrude outward. These freeflowing lines are in contrast to the more structured lines found in other works, motioning a sense of relaxation. The work combines warm and cooler tones balancing vigour and noise against quietude. Through this work, Anatsui contemplates the tension of the energy he observes outside his studio in Tema, Ghana — filled with people during the day and completely dead in the night.
Arranged in vertical fixed panels that are carved into rich patterns and textures, Routes to Discovery and National Identity Card reflect the artist’s early practice which incorporated cut wood and lumber often sourced from the Nsukka Market in Nigeria. In Routes to Discovery Anatsui emphasises borders that mankind have placed to curtail the freedom of others. The straight and structured lines are interrupted by organic rings that offer a sense of reprieve.
Through works such as National Identity Card, he subtly gestures at the different things that make up and break apart an identity — fingerprints, a connection to heritage and folkloric traditions as well as more contemporary tools of identification such as DNA recognition. By embracing one’s identity with and without its limits, Anatsui reflects his principle of thinking about life as “a beautiful phenomenon to be experienced and not a problem to be solved.”
Through this exhibition, ideas of play that form the foundation of his practice are revealed in how he approaches cumbersome materials with weightlessness and his ability to consider the socio-political while transforming them into personal meaning. The exhibition speaks to transience, contingencies and possibilities that impact notions of freedom.