The many hands of El Anatsui
You may, by now, be questioning Anatsui's process and the quality of materials used. Certainly, his method challenges the widespread and, for some critics and collectors, preferred image of the solitary artist and his singular shaping hand. Additionally, Anatsui's dazzling transformation of trash and other common or found objects subverts expectations about fine art and the inherent value of the medium. These two features of his work have been central to his practice throughout his forty-year career and can be seen in some of his early pieces on display, a 1970s collection of circular wooden sculptures with colorful patterns, shapes, and ideograms seared and painted onto their surface. Their conception originated in the round Ghanaian market trays traditionally used to hold fresh produce, and they were made by local wood carvers, with Anatsui adding the branded ornamentation. Similarly, Anatsui commissioned local tinkers to create the more than 1,700 tin boxes that make up the vibrant, sweeping installation Open(ing) Market. This piece, as well as the bottle-top hangings which hold wrinkles and folds like a mussed blanket, owe their shapes and drapes to several additional sets of hands: the exhibit's curator and museum staff, whom Anatsui permits to arrange his work as they like.