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El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You About Africa


Client: Denver Art Museum
Dates on view: September 9, 2012 – January 6, 2013
Exhibition total area: 8,000 sq. ft., plus 2,500 sq. ft. African Gallery permanent collection
Checklist: Over 60 artworks, including paintings, ceramics, wooden sculptures and hanging metal textiles


(From the exhibition website) The first retrospective of El Anatsui’s work, this exhibition included important sculptures in wood, ceramic, and mixed media as well as major pieces from his bottle-top series. The 61 works cover all phases of the artist’s career, from his early work in Ghana utilizing traditional symbols to found driftwood works made in Denmark to sculptures made using the chainsaw as a carving tool. This is the first opportunity for audiences to see how the artist’s ideas have developed over four decades. El Anatsui has gained widespread international acclaim in recent years for his stunning metal wall sculptures made from liquor bottle caps, such as his piece in the DAM’s collection, Rain Has No Father?.

Born in Ghana, Anatsui has lived and worked in Nigeria since 1975. Although Anatsui was a respected artist and teacher in Africa for more than 30 years, he had little international notoriety until the 2007 Venice Biennial when he created a stir by suspending a large metal sculpture made from liquor bottle tops and metal foil bottle neck collars on the outside of a building.

In his most recent metal wall sculptures, which have brought him global acclaim, Anatsui recycles bottle caps from a West African distillery in his home town, piecing them together to form monumental curtains patterned with row upon row of different brands of liquor bottle caps. It has sometimes been said that these sculptures and other of his artworks are about recycling, but that is not true. Anatsui is ardent that his use of found materials is about transformation—giving objects new lives as they are transformed into something else.

Originated by the Museum of African Art, El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You About Africa also travels to the University of Michigan Museum of Art.



Exhibition development
Exhibition design
Graphic design
Reconfiguration of the permanent collection and educational space adjacent to the exhibition gallery


All photographs courtesy of Denver Art Museum | Jeff Wells