El Anutsui art exhibition, review: ‘Hauntingly beautiful wall pieces’

Warrior by El Anatsui. Picture: Jonathan Greet

Warrior by El Anatsui. Picture: Jonathan Greet - Credit: Archant

Signing the comments’ book on leaving the El Anatsui exhibition at the October Gallery in Bloomsbury, the challenge was to find an adjective to best convey the impression made by the Ghanaian sculptor’s remarkable wall pieces.

Could scintillating, mesmerising or simply beautiful do them justice? Whatever it might be, this haunting exhibition truly falls into the category of “if there’s one thing you see this week”.

El Anatsui is best known in London for TSIATSA – searching for connection, the 500 sq ft work made of aluminium bottle-tops, printing plates and roofing sheets which covered the façade of Burlington House during the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2013.

Most pieces in the current exhibition are also curtain-like installations, though much smaller, which explore the possibilities of bottle tops wired together into panels of metallic cloth.

For Warrior, pictured, the source of most tops is the intriguingly named Liquor Headmaster. El Anatsui’s signature carved and burnt tropical hardwood reliefs are also represented.

Though his works have addressed social, political and historical concerns and often have poetic names, El Anatsui has said that he wants viewers to have individual trains of thought prompted by the pieces rather than attempt to understand “the meaning of the work”.

He has spent most of his career as a sculptor and teacher in Nigeria, where he was a professor at the university in Nsukka and part of the group of artists based there who revived the practice of uli designs, usually drawn on the body.

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The October Gallery staged his first solo exhibition in the UK in 1995. Last year he was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale.

El Anatsui: New Works runs until Saturday at 24 Old Gloucester Street WC1, Tuesday to Saturday 12.30pm to 5.30pm.

On the closing day at 3pm, the gallery’s artistic director Elisabeth Lalouschek will discuss the work with Gerald Houghton, director of special projects. £5 in advance or £8. Booking: events@octobergalleryco.uk or 0207 242 7367.