CityLife Arts

El Anatsui’s installation In Quest of Freedom: Carte blanche to El Anatsui (Ghana) at The Africa2020 Season in Paris centres five natural elements

By N’Gone Fall

The Africa2020 Season, designed as a platform for the production and dissemination of knowledge, places education at the center of its project.

Globally recognized and respected, El Anatsui is one of the most exciting international contemporary artists of our time. Throughout a distinguished career spanning more than forty-five years, he has addressed a wide range of social, cultural, economic, political and historical concerns. He embraced an equally diverse range of mediums, creative processes and experiments around site specific installations, outdoor performances and monumental sculptures.

Senior personality of the Africa2020 Season, El Anatsui was born in 1944 in Ghana and graduated from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi in 1969. In the 1970s, in Nigeria, a group of artists had formed the Zaria Art Society with the aim of synthesizing European and Nigerian traditions. Natural Synthesis remains the most important artistic and conceptual revolution on the African continent. Eager to participate in history on the move, El Anatsui accepted in 1975 to teach at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka and joined this radical experimentation movement. He will not leave this city where he still resides today. This is probably why many Westerners think El Anatsui is Nigerian. But does it matter? As Cameroonian Ntone Edjabe, founder of the legendary Chimurenga magazine, said, We are all Nigerians.

In Nigeria, El Anatsui divided his life between practicing art and teaching. The one I consider to be the best of us is the most iconic and respected figure in the art world in Africa. Prof, as his former students and the locals of the town of Nsukka affectionately call him, has left his mark on generations of Nigerian and Ghanaian artists. He has also been funding for many years, discreetly, artistic projects, scholarships for art students, as well as school equipment. His tireless personal investment in future generations makes him a role model par excellence of dedication and commitment for the youth to whom the Africa2020 Season is dedicated.

In Quest of Freedom, this site-specific creation which is inspired by the history of the island of the Cité and the Conciergerie, calls upon five elements of nature: water, wind, wood, metal, stone. Silence and Solemnity are the key words of this installation which refers to History and the passing of Time. This project is an invitation to meditation and aims to create connections between human beings.

“I believe that when a human being touches something, he gives it some form of energy. So there is a link between all the people who have manipulated one of these multiple elements. I have the feeling, through my work, to connect these people to each other and, more broadly, to create a link between the entire humanity,” says  El Anatsui.

I would like to warmly thank El for his trust. This project, of which I am the curator, is an important step in a series of discussions that I started with him when we first met in 1995.

This project is also the conclusion of an unfinished conversation with the Nigerian Olabisi Obafunke Silva, curator, founder and director of the CCA Lagos art center. Bisi was to be the curator of this exhibition. We have had many discussions on this subject. My last WhatsApp message, on February 12, 2019, went unanswered. She had just died in Lagos, swept away by a cancer. Her rigor, her integrity and her generosity have left a great void on the 5 continents. We miss her. I miss her. The Women Focus and the Education section of the Africa2020 Season are dedicated to her.

Eternal gratitude to Elisabeth Laloucheck of October Gallery in London, the official gallery that has been representing El Anatsui since 1993. Without her dedication, tenacity, administrative and logistical support, this project would probably not have seen the light of day.

A deep respect for Adam Lowe and the whole Factum Arte team who have worked with El Anatsui for several years. Their patience and professionalism made it possible to overcome the innumerable technical and sanitary challenges that this project imposed on us.

 N’Goné Fall is curator of In Quest of Freedom: Carte blanche to El Anatsui (Ghana), currently running at Conciergerie, 2 boulevard du Palais 75001, Paris, 19 May – 14 November 2021.

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