From a distance, El Anatsui's shimmering tapestries look like just any other beautiful work of art made from the best silks available. However, come closer and you will realize that they are not made from the finest materials but, from flattened bottle tops. Come even closer and you will be able to read the names of all the liquor bottles they came from!
The Ghanaian-born artist who is being credited with the invention of a new art form was already an accomplished artist before he stumbled upon this unusual 'medium' whilst walking along Ghana's Nsukka neighborhood in 1998. Looking around for some inspiration for his next piece of art, the sculptor came across a garbage bag filled with liquor bottle tops.
Even though he had no idea what he was going to do with them, he picked up the bag and took it to his studio where it sat for many months, as he continued with his normal wood and ceramic creations. Then one day, he took them out and started experimenting with them - flattening them, cutting them into various shapes and then connecting them with the help of a copper wire - Essentially, transforming the nondescript tops into incredible works of art.
Mr. Anatsui says when he began, he had believed he would stop working with the bottle tops after completing a few pieces. But there are so many things he can do with them that they have become his favorite medium of choice.
He now of course does not looking for the caps in the garbage, but instead, buys them in wholesale from the local distilleries, after which his studio workers create initial blocks, which the artist then configures into larger pieces.
As for the way the art looks at the end? That depends on whoever is installing the finished masterpiece. That's because they can be draped and hung in all kinds of different ways, which is what Mr. Anatsui loves the most about it - It is never permanent, never boring and no exhibit ever looks the same. Another great thing? When it's time to take it down there is no need for expensive crating - All the museum workers have to do, is fold it up and fit it inside a suitcase or trunk!
Over the years, Mr. Anatsui's masterpieces have been exhibited in many shows and museums ranging from the Venice's Biennale where it caught the eye of every art lover to being the centerpiece of the re-opening of New York's Museum for African Art. Some like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum have even purchased a few of his pieces for permanent display.
Earlier this month, the Brooklyn Museum opened the first ever solo exhibition in a New York museum, that features 30 of the artist's works, many created out of these unassuming bottle tops. Called Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui, the exhibition will run all the way through August 8th, giving both locals and visitors plenty of time to check out the unusual work of this creative artist.
Resources: Wikipedia.org, midtownkcpost.com, nytimes.com, fastcodesign.com