Recent readings of El Anatsui’s metal wall hangings celebrate their sheer beauty and grandiosity, marveling at their clever quotations of modernist tropes. However, these readings tend to miss the spiritual drama and melancholy informing his transformation processes; they overlook the links between quieter, consistent practices of nomadism, the insistence of localism in his choices, and the attention to detail and aesthetic pleasure wrought from human labor and the passing of time. This article examines the propitious union of conceptual and aesthetic choices in Anatsui’s oeuvre and their resonance with current contemporary practice in the globalizing West. The interplay of beauty, nomadism, and participatory aesthetics enhances the appeal of Anatsui’s new works, and the intense linkages they establish between time, space, viewer, and material prompt us to redefine the meaning and relevance of beauty to art.
Research Article|May 01 2011
A Nomad’s Revolutionary Beauty
Elizabeth Harney is associate professor of art history at the University of Toronto. She is author of several books and catalogues: Ethiopian Passages: Contemporary Art from the Diaspora (2003), In Senghor’s Shadow: Art, Politics, and the Avant- Garde in Senegal, 1960–1995 (2004), and Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art (2007)
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Nka (2011) 2011 (28): 114-129.
Elizabeth Harney; A Nomad’s Revolutionary Beauty. Nka 1 May 2011; 2011 (28): 114–129. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10757163-1266729
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