By Nii B. Andrews.
El Anatsui – the “Lion of Anyako”, one of the greatest living artists has created a magnificent art piece for the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall Hyundai Commission in London.
The three hanging pieces have transformed the grey massive expanse of the hall into a temple of reflection on the current state of the world.
How did we get here; what were the important signposts; what does the future hold?
These are the questions we are invited to confront.
In his interviews, Anatsui has always been restrained and measured, maybe even blandly diplomatic; and that is his prerogative.
But he is urbane enough and hence still manages to drop subtle or veiled clues as to the more incisive, independent and radical aspects of his thinking.
With his artwork though, it is a different story; the narrative is more accessible and jarring.
For this commission, he transforms the Turbine Hall into a ship; reminding us first of the eternal shame and disgrace of chattel slavery under the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade; second, the current waves of migration towards fortress Europe and third, our embattled and abused planet – our mother ship in the vast cosmos.
Once again by using a variety of discarded materials – the detritus of a hell bent consumerist culture, he has fabricated a ragged metallic hanging in a circular shape – or is it a globe?
Then there is another mammoth piece at the far end; a foreboding metallic and paper fabric sheet or cloth that cascades right down to the concrete floor of the hall thus simulating an ugly oil slick on our polluted oceans.
A simplistic view is to look at the pieces as being fabricated from salvaged materials.
But the materials have been transmuted in the hands of a master craftsman.
Anatsui has changed their shapes and volumes; he has juxtaposed them with cunning insight in a manner that harnesses light to allow him communicate important parables and allegories.
The sum total is a virtuoso presentation where the artist bares his soul in order to force us to contemplate the sickening reality that human kind has created.
The blood red and gold canopy overhead – referencing a sail; the circular mobile with its ghostly figures; the ocean filled with debris; the Turbine Hall has become a ship with a yet undetermined destination.
Since the 1990s – first with his scorched wood planks which were interchangeable hanging pieces, followed by his mammoth shimmering metal bottle top hanging sheets; Anatsui has almost single-handedly pushed the boundaries of sculpture in a novel and breath taking manner.
With his latest commission for the Tate Modern, Anatsui has perhaps even pushed the frontiers of poetry in helping us decide between hope and desolation.
*******FREE; TATE MODERN EXHIBITION; HYUNDAI COMMISSION
Tate Modern; Turbine Hall; Bankside; London SE1 9TG
Dates:10 October 2023 – 14 April 2024******