El Anatsui - Beauty from Rubbish

El_Anatsui_detail Visitors to the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts this year will be greeted by a huge, shimmering sculptural wall-hanging on the courtyard facade of Burlington House. The sculpture, TSIATSIA - Searching for a Connection, by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, is made from discarded bottle tops and copper wire.

The work has been awarded the prestigious Charles Wollaston Award, for the most distinguished work in the Summer Exhibition.

El Anatsui, Balkan, 2012. Photo Jonathan Greet, Image courtesy of October Gallery, London

El Anatsui's unique creative process involves collecting discarded metallic objects, mostly liquor bottle tops and foils, and wiring them together to produce draping, fabric-like sculptures whose lavish quality belies their humble raw materials. The works are constructed by first creating a number of small "blocks" of joined bottle tops. These blocks are then shifted around on the studio floor whilst the artist looks at the patterns and textures taking shape, photographing as he goes. Once a final composition has been settled upon, all the blocks are joined together to form a large hanging sculpture. ย You can watch a fascinating film of the artist at work in his studio in Nigeria here.


The works reference the colonial and postcolonial relationship between Europe and Africa. The bottle tops come from drinks such as gin and whisky, which were originally imported to Africa from Europe but are now manufactured by local distillers. All the bottle caps have been collected from the street - used, touched and loaded with what the artist refers to as a human charge, and a sense of place.

To coincide with the installation at the Royal Academy, the October Gallery are exhibiting two of the artist's recent, smaller works, Iris and Balkan, as part of the exhibition Masters of the Transvangarde, until 3 August.

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is on until 18 August. ย All images courtesy of the October Gallery.