El Anatsui Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement

Image courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia

El Anatsui is the recipient of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement of the 56th International Art Exhibition of the Biennale di Venezia – All the World’s Futures.

The decision was made by the Board of Directors of la Biennale chaired by Paolo Baratta, upon recommendation of the Curator of the 56th International Art Exhibition Okwui Enwezor, acknowledging that with the following motivations:

“Born in 1944 in Anyako, Ghana, and based at the university town Nsukka in Nigeria since 1975, El Anatsui is perhaps the most significant living African artist working on the continent today. The award for which I am recommending him is an important honor to an artist who has contributed immensely to the recognition of contemporary African artists in the global arena. It is also a worthy recognition of the originality of Anatsui’s artistic vision, his long-term commitment to formal innovation, and his assertion through his work of the place of Africa’s artistic and cultural traditions in international contemporary art.  The Golden Lion Award acknowledges not just his recent successes internationally, but also his artistic influence amongst two generations of artists working in West Africa. It is also an acknowledgment of the sustained, crucial work he has done as an artist, mentor and teacher for the past forty-five years.

A graduate of the sculpture program of the acclaimed Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Anatsui’s career direction was determined not so much by the still neo-colonial 1960s curriculum of the art school as by his identification with the progressive cultural politics championed by Ghanaian and African cultural nationalists of the independence era. Working with everyday objects on which he imbued philosophical and idiomatic signs, Anatsui’s earliest work consisted of round wood reliefs inspired by trays used by Kumasi traders for displaying their wares. On these trays he carved adinkra motifs and other designs and in the process was attracted to the dynamic relationship between the rich symbolism and graphic power of adinkra signs. Once aware of this possibility of simultaneous evocation of significant form and idea in adinkra, Anatsui, who in 1975 joined the faculty of the Fine and Applied Arts Department at the University of Nigeria, expanded his field of artistic resources to other West African design and sign systems, and syllabaries, including Igbo Uli, Efik Nsibidi, Bamun and Vai scripts. In time, he became a leading member of the famed Nsukka School presented at the important art exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in 1997. Today, Anatsui remains committed to the development of new artistic forms from African sources as well as from materials available in his local environment.”

The acknowledgment will be awarded to El Anatsui on Saturday May 9th 2015 at Ca’ Giustinian, the historic headquarters of la Biennale di Venezia, during the awards ceremony and inauguration of the 56th Exhibition. The 56th International Art Exhibition will open to the public at 10:00 am on that same day.

Biographical note

El Anatsui. An alumnus of the College of Art, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana, El Anatsui (b. 1944) is one of the most exciting international contemporary artists of our time. Throughout a distinguished forty-year career as both sculptor and teacher – he was Professor of Sculpture and Departmental Head at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka – El Anatsui has addressed a vast range of social, political and historical concerns, and embraced an equally diverse range of media and processes. His sculptures have been collected by major international museums, from the British Museum, London to the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the de Young Museum, San Francisco, USA; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York;  Guggenheim, Abu Dhabi; Osaka Foundation of Culture, Osaka; Museum of Modern Art, New York and many other prestigious institutions besides.

His installations have provoked wide international attention in recent years, with institutions and audiences fascinated by these sumptuous, mesmerising works made from thousands of aluminium bottle tops. During the Venice Biennale, in 2007, he transformed the facade of the Palazzo Fortuny by draping it in a shimmering wall sculpture. In 2010, two major touring shows of his work opened on opposite sides of the world: El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You About Africa at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada (organised by the Museum for African Art, New York) and A Fateful Journey: Africa in the Works of El Anatsui at the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan. As part of the 2012 Paris Triennale, he transformed the entire facade of Le Palais Galleria, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris with his striking work, Broken Bridge. In 2013, the Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA, exhibited the touring solo exhibition, Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui and the Royal Academy of Arts, London, presented the artist with the prestigious Charles Wollaston Award for his work, TSIATSIA – searching for connection, 2013, which covered the entire facade of the RA building. In 2014, he was made an Honorary Royal Academician as well as elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Source: Venice Biennale

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