El Anatsui’s opening reception at Toronto’s ROM

Olivia Birdsall ’11 and Tanda Dhlakama ’11 had the opportunity to go to Toronto at the beginning of October 2010 to attend the opening of El Anatsui’s retrospective When I Last Wrote to You about Africa. The exhibition remains on view at the Royal Ontario Museum until January 2, 2011, and will travel to NYC to be presented as one of the inaugural exhibitions for the new Museum for African Art in April.

From the ROM, “In the 1970s, Anatsui began to manipulate broken ceramic fragments. With their allusions to ancient Nok terracotta sculptures, West African myths about the earth, and cultural references to the use of clay, the ceramic works piece together shattered ideas and histories. His wooden sculptures from this period created by chopping, carving, burning and etching, allude to signs and symbols from various cultures and languages from across the globe.

The 1990s marked a crucial shift from working with hand tools to carving with a power saw, which enabled the artist to cut through blocks of wood, leaving a jagged surface. In some compositions these dramatic incisions stand for the scars left by the European colonial encounter with Africa.

The colours and patterns in Anatsui’s gestural acrylic paintings and ink drawings, made at various points during his career and shown here outside of Nigeria for the first time, resonate with his work in other materials. These vibrant and beautiful works subtly unify the retrospective, referencing Anatsui’s larger themes and revealing much about the artist’s process over nearly 40 years.”

Tanda is shown here with, left to right, El Anatsui, Chika Okeke-Agulu, and the well-known international curator, Okwui Enwezor.

St. Lawrence University