“ I have experimented with quite a few materials. I also work with material that has witnessed and encountered a lot of touch and human use … and these kinds of material and work have more charge than material/work that I had done with machines.”

These words belong to the Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, who gives symbolic meanings to his works of art by suggesting that each material he uses in his works of art has its unique language and brings a new breath to art by making simple pieces remarkable.

El Anutsi, one of the leading successful sculptors of his generation, is trying to give the message of a waste-free world to future generations by transforming metal waste, which a certain segment of society sees as garbage, into a great artistic treasure.

Photo of El Anatsui in his work studio. Image courtesy of El Anatsui.

By using recyclable materials in every artwork he has created so far, the artist emphasizes that art can be made with recycling waste materials rather than buying new items. Thus, he shows the power of art arising from recycling by emphasizing the importance of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Responsible Consumption and Production and explaining that every material has a purpose.

Anatsui is an internationally renowned artist who transforms recyclable materials such as wood, liquor bottle caps and clay into detailed and dazzling metallic tapestries. He invites the viewers to a poetic art adventure with his latest monumental sculpture installation for the exhibition titled Behind the Red Moon at Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. Believing that every material he uses has a soul and its characteristics, the artist explores the overlapping histories of Africa, Europe and America with his works in Behind the Red Moon, focusing on humanity's struggle for survival in an environment of power and oppression.

This exhibition, which monumentally represents the artist's extraordinary practice and brings together an artistic narrative on a large scale, offers the viewers a breathtaking experience as an artwork in three acts. Thus, the viewer is left alone with the unique movement and interaction of the harmony between the curtain, body and sculptures.

Combining thousands of reused and crushed liquor bottle caps and metal parts with copper wires to create unique craftsmanship, Anatsui challenges the industrial scale of the exhibition hall with giant panels on a monumental scale.

In his exhibition at Tate Modern, the artist refers to Tate and colonial history with Tate & Lyle, the only sugar brand used in many African countries, including Ghana, whose wealth came from sugar plantations during colonial times. As sugar cane is thought to signify labour, slavery and Africa, Anatsui reveals the relationship between the United Kingdom and its colonies through the materials he uses to resemble archaeological remains.

During the creation of his monumental sculptures made of thousands of metal bottle caps and pieces, the artist created a different composition by combining abstract colours, shapes and lines. However, the real message is revealed when the sculptures are viewed closely and from a distance.

Every viewer who looks at the metallic curtains from afar is faced with a landscape consisting of symbols such as the moon, sail, sea, wave, earth and wall. When looked closely, the logos of the bottle tops used in the works bear striking traces of the global industry built on colonial trade routes, and the pieces included in the works give a message about social lives. In this context, the past and present of countries like America and especially Africa and Europe, come to life again in sculptural forms suspended in the air. Thus, the metallic curtains exhibited in Turbine Hall embody Anatsui's perspective on history and bear traces of his experimental approach. 

As a sculptor, he assembles materials such as thousands of aluminum pieces, coloured bottle caps, printed labels and copper from local recycling stations and stores them in his studio for years, experimenting with them until he achieves the unique artistic message he wants to convey. Especially, with the new sculptural forms he creates from recycled materials, known internationally as his "bottle-top installations," he reveals a unique combination of experimental rigour and inspiring vision, shedding light on the future with the artistic language he invents. What makes the materials he uses remarkable is not their easy accessibility, but the unique way in which he brings them together and conveys their symbolic meanings to the viewer.

Included in the 2023 Time 100 list of the world's most influential people, artist El Anatsui aims to pass on his modest understanding of art to future generations with his metallic fabric sculptures, which are exhibited worldwide and created by creating magnificent compositions. 

As his career has slowly grown beyond Ghana and has begun to spread internationally, he has taken on a life mission to support other artists in every field. Not only that, Anatsui also goes to extraordinary lengths to support individuals, families and organizations in his community in Nsukka and Nigeria. Thus, by incorporating indigenous Adinkra symbols, Ghanaian motifs and fragments of ideographic and logographic symbolism into his work, the artist adapts his designs to contemporary art, creating an artistic bridge between past, present and future.

Combining his interest in the history of the slave trade and human migration with the environmental concerns of today's world and touching on the finest points of African tradition, El Anatsui emphasizes recycling and change with his monumental scale works, including his recent works at Turbine Hall.

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