Libmonster ID: UK-1260


Doctor of Historical Sciences

The turn of the XX-XXI centuries. in art, it was marked by the flourishing of the African avant-garde. African artists entered the world's artistic elite, continuing the traditions laid down by the French Impressionists, Fauvists, Surrealists, German expressionists, Italian futurists, and Russian avant-gardists.

El Anatsui is an outstanding representative of the African avant-garde. Sculptor, teacher, art theorist, participant of prestigious art exhibitions-he became one of five Africans whose works (for the first time in 1990) were allowed to participate in the prestigious Venice Biennale 1. By that time, he was 46 years old. He was already a mature craftsman, well-known in his native Ghana and Nigeria, where he had lived since 1975 and where there were more opportunities for professional and creative growth.2

In 1982, Anatsui became the Head of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, where he continues to work today. Here he developed as a master, theorist and practitioner of African avant-garde art.


Nsukka University has played a huge role in the development of contemporary art in Nigeria. The Department of Art History at the University was established in 1961, a year after the country's independence. During the civil war (the Biafran War of Independence, 1967 - 1970), Igbo artists (one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria) worked in Nsukka. It was here that Uche Okeke 3 began experimenting with uli graphics* (with miniature signs and symbols that have a sacred, secret meaning for him and his people), becoming the founder of a special artistic style-ulism4.

In the XX century, many artists associated themselves with Ulism, including E. Anatsui (in 1970 - 1980). Over time, most of them, mainly painters (Nigerians U. Anatsui). Okeke, Ch. Okeke, O. Udechukwu, O. Oguibe, M. Kure 5, etc.), settled in Europe and America and achieved success, becoming regulars of international exhibitions and salons. They were written about and talked about. However, Western art critics, while denying the very existence of modern art in Africa, as opposed to traditional art, questioned the authenticity of the work of Africans living outside of Africa. In their homeland, they were also not considered fully "their own", focusing on the alternative nature of their work and adherence to Western traditions.6

The appearance on the international stage of an African sculptor living in Africa, an innovator and conceptualist, has become a sensation. In 1993, Anatsuya's first solo exhibition was held at the October 7 Gallery in London, followed by presentations in New York, Tokyo, Washington, Johannesburg, and Havana. Outstanding masters, artists and art historians presented it to the audience: in Japan - Yuki Kawaguchi; in the USA-Olu Oguibe; in France-Simon Nyami 8.

El Anatsui has gained worldwide fame. Currently, his name is widely known in Europe and America. He is the "star" of exhibition halls and world galleries. His installations, sculptures and design works are in the collections of the British Museum and the Albert and Victoria Museum in London, the National Museum of African Art in Washington, Ivaleva House in Bayreuth (Germany), in the collections of international foundations and banks, and in private collections. The master's work is known and loved in Japan, where his works are displayed at the Shitagai Museum of Fine Arts in Tokyo. Japanese people are impressed by his passion for symbols, images, and signs, which is why E. Anatsuya's work seems to them partly "Japanese".

El Anatsui was born in 1944 in the British colony of the Gold Coast. He was 13 years old at the time of Ghana's independence. He shared the views of Kwame Nkrumah, the idol of educated youth, the first president (1960-1966) of sovereign Ghana, a fighter for its freedom, and a herald of pan-Africanism.

Uli - a system of written signs and drawings common in Eastern Nigeria. Its speakers are Igbo women.

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Anatsui's works have never been exhibited in Russia, and few people, apart from a small group of researchers professionally engaged in the study of art and cultural history, are familiar with them.

Art criticism puts E. Anatsui on a par with outstanding masters of plastic art, such as Osip Zadkin (Iosel Aronovich Zadkin, 1890 - 1967) - a native of Russia, a French sculptor), Yakov Epstein (1880-1959), one of the leading sculptors of the XX century, born in America in a family of Polish immigrants), although his works do not resemble the recognized examples of modernism and postmodernism. Anatsuya's works are intertwined with many threads of world culture. It can be considered as a continuation of the traditions of Cubism, surrealism, Dadaism, avant-gardism, vitalism, the Paris group of "new realists" (the French version of pop art).

A distinctive feature of the master's work can also be considered a tendency to experiment with "zero" (through) forms, for example, with emptiness ("Confusion "(1979), " Ruins of Memory "(1979), etc.). Like the avant-gardists, he often resorted to deliberate distortion of nature, trying to interpret artistic and concrete historical subjects, mythological images and images of memory-verbal, visual, virtual ("Writing on the Wall" (1979), " The Face of African History "(1988), "The Patchwork of History" (1992-1993), "Introduction to History "(1995), "Grandmother's scraps" (1995), etc.).

Anatsuya's installations and sculptures are expressive and documentary, and the author himself shows himself as a classic and romantic, mystic and formalist. In each of his compositions, despite the apparent absurdity of reliefs and forms, a very specific meaning is encoded: an image ("Queue for Visas "(1992), "Zigzags of History" (1994), " Destruction "(1992), "Africa-Internal Rhythms II" (1995), an idea, and even a whole album). a complex of ideas, often expressed through metaphor ("Full-length Adinsibuli" (1995) - see below for details on this sculpture).

E. Anatsui creates his design works (canvases, vessels, plates, boards) from metal, wood, ceramics, and sometimes from consumer goods. In London, in the October Gallery, as part of the exhibition "From Courage to Freedom" (it was held in February-April 2007 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade by the British Parliament), his Clothing series was shown-panels consisting of thousands of metal (and plastic) bottle caps connected with copper wire. Using cultural components belonging to different eras, artifacts, Anatsui seeks to perpetuate the symbols of modern civilization, forming the texture of the memory of generations.


Anatsui has been searching for his own path in art for a long time and has tried many genres and styles. He never denied external influences on his work, repeatedly stating that "he sees nothing wrong in turning to Western ideas and forms... and if the author is a person, the risk of borrowing is not great... the main thing is to be yourself, and influences make the master even stronger. " 9

Like any artist, he has predecessors and followers, teachers and students, preferences and guidelines.

He studied in Ghana, at the College of Art* (the college had connections with educational centers in London), studied art and pedagogy, got acquainted with the collections of many museums around the world and in the 1960s came to the idea that, as an African, Ghanaian, Ewe, works in line with European traditions. The search for style led him to the village, to weavers, potters, and an interest in design, clothing of the Ewe and Ashanti (one of the major ethnic groups in Ghana), her drawings, graphics, and reliefs.

Anatsui borrowed a number of ideas from his older compatriots, sculptors Kofi Antubama and Vincent Kofi. Following Antubam, he began to use the signs of adinkra**in his work. They attracted him with their significance and conciseness, simplicity of form and clarity of lines. In the 70s, together with V. Kofi, they organized exhibitions in Accra, Winneba and Kumasi, created the tekart group, bringing together specialists in the field of "textile art".

Anatsui perceived the world in an indissoluble connection of the past, present and future. Africa, its "yesterday", "today" and "tomorrow" - three stages of temporary experience,

* Now Kumasi University of Science and Technology.

** Adinkra signs are used in the design of traditional akan clothing (see also ch. 10).

page 72

The main theme of his works is that it is characteristic of the system of African knowledge and values. Functional use of historical subjects made the master's work relevant and topical.

The second solo exhibition of E. Anatsuya was held in London at the October Gallery in 1998. It was called "The History of Africa in Sculpture". Turning to the past, Anatsui sought to understand the meaning of the present and the future.

Anatsui studied with outstanding professional and self-taught sculptors. In Kumasi and Accra, he learned the basics of textile and pottery production and ornaments. In 1975, after moving to Nsukka, where Uche Okeke taught at the university in those years, he studied painting and sculpture in Ife and Benin, terracotta figures of Nok, bronze of Yoruba; he was close to the mbari club 11, and adopted the idea of "natural synthesis" (in the form in which it was professed by U. S. Abramovich). Okeke 12) and finally created his own direction of plastic art, which he called transavangardism.

The idea of synthesis, which united many artists in the 1970s, was aimed at overcoming the rivalry between cultures, which was extremely important in the context of Africa and Nigeria, which was often perceived as "Africa in Miniature". Uche Okeke and his associates in the "Nsukki school "(in the 60s they called themselves "rebels", "rebels") came up with the idea of the need for a synthesis on the way to creating a unified Nigerian culture. It was supposed to be based on the accumulation of Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa and Western cultures, using modern and traditional techniques and materials. For them, it was not just a synthesis of new and old, not just a synthesis of forms. W. Okeke saw the meaning of "natural synthesis" in that each nation should invest the best in Nigerian culture and, accordingly, in art. So, in his opinion, it was possible to survive in competition with Western civilization and prove that Africa, in general, and Nigeria, in particular, has its own history and culture and they are part of the world.

Political situation in Nigeria (civil war, genocide of the Igbo people, mass exodus of Nigerians abroad) contributed to the emergence of "talking artists". They focused on social and political issues. The ideological orientation of their work was expressed by the unity of speech and silence (otherwise, in the conditions of censorship, it was difficult to convey their ideas and attitudes to the viewer). Emotional experience (sensations) they passed through the consciousness (imagination) and could turn any plot from realism to abstraction and vice versa. In their work, they combined philosophy and poetry, history and linguistics, journalism and posters, text and drawing, acting as heralds of African history and culture.13 The conciseness, understatement, and seeming incompleteness of the works created the ground for the play of the imagination. Artists of U. Okeke, O. Udechukwu, O. Oguibe were proficient in the alphabet of signs-an allegorical, Aesopian language, which was largely based on the sign system of uli. The visual practice of ualism, and above all, the clarity, plasticity and coherence of lines, are reflected in sculpture and metal structures, in staged art, in the art of scenery, in textile design.

The actualization of such attitudes coincided with the statement of the authoritative German Africanist art critic Ulli Bayer that "traditional art in Nigeria is dead".14 In 1968, he stated that modern Nigerian art has ceased to be authentic, thus provoking interest in African traditions (and realities).

Anatsui inherited his interest in Uli from Uche Okeke, who, in turn, inherited it from his mother (she was proficient in secret writing and passed some of her knowledge on to her son). At the University of Nsukka, professors and students enthusiastically studied the theory and practice of ualism. Of great importance was the fact that Z. Freud called fantasizing " 15.

The idea of "natural synthesis" by W. Okeke formed the basis of ualism, and later-the Nigerian avant-garde, a trend that cultivated the relationship between traditions and times and gained many supporters and followers. Not only Nigerians were among them. Lubaina Himid, Ibrahim al Salahi, and others were attracted to Ulism.

Although the phrase "Nigerian avant-garde" sounds like an oxymoron to many, it was in the midst of the visual arts of Nigeria and the Nigerian diaspora that it emerged, developed and had a huge impact on artists and sculptors, including El Anatsuya. Awareness of himself as a master, an Artist (with a capital letter - author's note), led him to the idea that synthesis - the interpenetration of cultures - can become a fundamental principle for the development of new styles and genres in the world of fine art.


The emergence of transavangardism is directly related to the artistic traditions of Nsukka. Its origins are to be found in Igbo graphics, in the Yoruba, Bolange, and Mande traditions and their interplay. E. Anatsui has become something of a polyglot in the process of visual art perception. He mastered what African culture gave him and, as a professional artist, was able to see new opportunities in it. And while ualism remained for decades the domain of the elite, a system of secret writing, a cipher, a code for initiates, transavangardism assumed a dialogue with the viewer: with all those who in one way or another shared his interests and views or were simply interested in art.

One of the key ideas in E. Anatsui's work was the idea of accumulation ("melting pot-

* In letters. translated from the Greek. - wittily stupid; something that hardly has the right to exist; complete nonsense; a stylistic device consisting of a combination of direct opposites.

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la"). He used her as a transcultural artist with a global vision of the world (due to upbringing and education), and managed to extract a rational grain from the traditions of many ethnic groups, taking the path of amalgamation of culture.

The best example of this is "Full-length Adinsibuli", a sculpture of a woman made of iroko wood * with a height of 239 cm. The composition reflects traditions and ideas belonging to different cultures and epochs, the universality of the myth (African, biblical, ancient) and the author's personal (individual) perception of a Woman (with a capital letter - author's note). Her image is complex and multifaceted. Her name - Adinsibuli - is a message to future generations. It consists of the first syllables of the names of three sign systems (proto-scripts): adinkra, nsibidi, uli, through which people belonging to the same circle (union, society) have communicated with each other for centuries. Nsibidi symbols and signs reflected the essence of emotional and social relationships, such as love and hate, marriage and unity, enterprise and success. El Anatsui filled traditional symbols with a new meaning.

In Japan, critics focused on the proximity of "Adinsibuli" to the traditions of Greek culture (primarily drama), in England - on the similarity with the masks of the Japanese theater No 17. Visitors to the exhibitions noted that it resembles sculptures from previous eras, images and masks of Gods, and cult figurines. She has the characteristics of Mary and Magdalene, Diana and Minerva, Athena and Aphrodite, the Mother of Water and Earth, the Goddess( Our Lady), the Madonna (Beautiful Lady) and simply an earthly woman who carries the "power of weakness" that was sung***. Smooth outlines of the figure, graceful posture, proud curve of the neck, elegant headdress, formal clothes create an image that attracts the attention of the audience. The sculpture "Adinsibuli" does not leave anyone indifferent.

Who is she - Adinsibuli? Her story is similar to that of other women: Igbo, Yoruba, Ashanti. This is a collective image of a girl, a woman, a mother, a lover, a ruler of thoughts, a warrior, a ruler. She has many faces, like most people, and is unique as a person. She is able to tell what African women talk and think about at work (about incidents in the village, about miracles of healing and healing, about life and death, about children and men), as evidenced by special badges (tempera-author's note). on her clothes. They are well-defined and contain both concrete information and deep philosophical meaning. So Adinsibuli can also be considered in a socio-political context as the personification of the image of Ghana and Nigeria. This is a free, independent Africa, full of hope for a better future.


El Anatsui took the path of representing the achievements of the past and proved to the whole world that the process of self - expression is a transcendent process, that it is possible to express others through one culture and one through others, how, initially belonging to one culture, you can belong to many and to all at once. And while Uche Okeke saw the future of Nigerian culture in accumulating the best of the cultures of the peoples inhabiting Nigeria, Anatsui absorbed the achievements of African culture in order to change the world.

One of his favorite images is the sankofa bird* * * * (the adinkra emblem), known for its habit of looking back. Her image (on cloth, on paper, on leather, on wood) is familiar to almost every African in West Africa. Translated from the tvi (twi) language, Sankofa means: "Come back and get it!" For Africans, it is a symbol of hope and belief that you can always go back and find what you lost. This is a sign that it is never too late to correct a mistake, despite the fact that moving forward, it is worth turning to the memory of our ancestors from time to time. During the presidency of K. Nkrumah, the image of Sankofa was in demand at the ideological and political level. A return to tradition and its use in the process of building a new Ghana has become part of the Government's strategy.

E. Anatsui interpreted the formula " Come back and take it!" not as a throwback to the past. Sankofa for him is a symbol of inner freedom (freedom of choice, freedom of expression, freedom of creativity), a sign of fate, the key to self-knowledge and knowledge of the world - a universal meaning common to different countries and peoples. In search of a new artistic language and style, he embarked on the path of presenting Africa to the rest of the world to tell its story, focusing on evidence and recognition, on symbols and signs that are understandable to Africans and non-Africans, on reconstructing the image of Africa that he saw and knew, on the fact that Africa is preparing to renew its culture. His Africa is multi-faceted and multi-faceted.

In the early 1960s, on the eve of the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), E. Anatsui created terracotta coats of arms of Ghana, Uganda, Tunisia and Zambia. He was far from politics: intellectual and cultural-


Iroko - a tree of the chlorophore genus.

** Nsibidi is a primitive writing system common in a number of Igbo areas.

*** Ashanti women's virtues include tact, caution, discretion, and tenderness.

**** Sankofa-a mystical akan bird that devours its eggs.

page 74

the tour life of society occupied him much more. However, he was tormented by the desire to make Africa visible, visible. He studied its history, literature, and myths... He managed to combine traditional forms and methods, materials, and techniques with logic, meaning, philosophy, and the spirit of modernization. His proximity to ulism led him to use not only new forms and styles for modern plastic art, borrowed from the African cultural tradition, but also new topics, relevant and topical, which made his art socially oriented.

The search for identity led Anatsuya, who has a special analytical gift, to the fact that everything in creativity should be meaningful. Art, in his opinion, should become the art of healing and healing, the art of survival and salvation. It is designed to connect ethnic groups, times and civilizations. The artist took the path of actualizing traditional African components in the context of contemporary art.

* * *

Anatsui himself sees creativity as a mechanism for self-discovery - a journey into identity. His commitment, in many ways, is connected with the successful presentation of himself (as an artist and an African) and the continent (Africa, as he would like it to be, and the one that exists in reality). Thanks to his efforts, Africa has become closer and more understandable to many people: regulars and visitors to museums and exhibitions, students and schoolchildren. The combination of two directly opposite principles of perception of the world: rational and emotional, characteristic of European and African cultures, respectively, in the framework of transavangardism, based on the idea of "natural synthesis", brought Africa closer to Europe and America.

Transavangardism currently has many followers. They live and work in different countries. Among them are Anatsuya's compatriot, sculptor Kofi Setorji 18, and Nigerian artist Marcia Kure. They, like El Anatsui himself, do not want to be left alone with their identity. They live closely in the bosom of continental and regional traditions, and by appealing to an international audience, they try to make them reconsider their attitude to Africa and its young and dynamically developing art.

1 In 2001, the first specialized exhibition of African artists "Authentic and Eccentric Africa Inside and Outside"was held as part of the Venice Biennale.

2 Nigeria is one of the few countries in Africa that has a relatively well-developed museum infrastructure (museums, galleries, exhibition halls) and, most importantly, educational institutions that train professional artists and art critics.

Uche Okeke 3 (born in Nigeria in 1933) is an artist, poet, collector of folklore, and teacher.

Ulizm is the 4th direction of contemporary African painting. The beginning of the formation of the "Nsukki school"is associated with the emergence of nationalism.

Chika Okeke 5-artist, poet, critic, art critic; curator of many exhibitions of contemporary African art in the USA, Great Britain, Germany, South Africa. Lives in the United States; studied at the University of Nsukka, where he taught from 1992 to 1996.

Obiora Udechukwu (b. 1946) is an artist, poet, publicist, playwright, and musician. He is called one of the apostles of modern ulism.

Olu Oguibe (b. 1964) is a poet, artist, and art theorist.

Marcia Kure (b. 1970) - graphic artist, studied at the University of Nsukka (1987-1994), exhibited in Berlin, New York, Washington. Favorite materials: ink, pencil, watercolor; favorite topics-environmental, humanitarian, gender issues, problems of world history.

6 This is evidenced by the names of exhibitions in London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco at the turn of the XX-XXI centuries: "Another Story", "Others", "Aliens", "Sensation". For more information, see: Gavristova T. M. Bridge between two cultures / / Asia and Africa today. 2004, N 6.

7 October Gallery was founded in 1978 by an international community of artists, musicians, and actors in search of a new style and a new European identity.

Simon Nyami 8-artist, writer, born in Lausanne, in a family of immigrants from Cameroon, lived in France and the United States, one of the editors of the magazine "Revue Noir"; taught at universities in Africa, Europe and the United States. - See: Fusion: West African Artists at the Venice Biennale. The Museum for African Art, N. -Y., Munich, 1993.

9 Ibid. P. 25.

Kofi Antubam 10 (1922 - 1964) - sculptor, adviser to President K. Nkrumah on cultural affairs; the first to use the akan sign system in the visual arts. Adinkra emblems were used by him in the decoration of the Ghanaian Parliament and other government buildings.

Vincent Kofi (1923-1974) - sculptor; teacher; graduate of Achimota College (1951); studied at the Royal College of Art (London, 1952-1955) and Columbia University (USA, 1959). One of the first African sculptors to receive a professional education, he worked as a teacher in Ghana, headed the College of Art of the University of Science and Technology (Kumasi). Author of sculptures: "Africa Awakens", "The Birth of Ghana".

11 Mbari (in the Igbo language - creation, creativity) - art clubs, creative associations of writers and artists in Nigeria. The first mbari was founded in 1961 in Ibadan by a group of young novelists and playwrights. Among them are V. Shoyinka, O. Tutuola, J. Clark, K. Okigbo. In 1962, at the initiative of mbari "Mbayo", the first summer school was organized in Oshogbo, where African artists were trained. Over time, such schools have become regular, and many graduates have received worldwide recognition.

Okeke U. 12 Natural Synthesis. Nsukka, 1960.

13 About them, see: Gavristova T. M. Afrikanskii khudozhnik v zapadnom obshchestve [African Artist in Western Society]. 1999, N 6. Ee ee: Izobrazhitel'noe iskusstvo na puti reabilitatsii afrikanskoi istorii [Her own: Fine art on the path of rehabilitation of the African history]. Vestnik Yaroslavskogo GU im. 2007. Vol. 3. Series: History. N 1. Its own: An Inconvenient Truth "(African artists on the way to visualizing history) / / Vestnik... 2007. Vol. 5. Series: Humanities. N 2. Her own: Presentation of the history of Africa in fine arts / / World of Clio. Collection of articles in honor of Lorina Petrovna Repina, vol. 2. Moscow, IVI RAS, 2007, et al.

14 The African Diaspora. African Origins and New Worlds Identities. Indiana Univ. Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis, 1999. P. 397.

15 For more information, see: Freud Z. Khudozhnik i fantasizirovanie [Artist and Fantasy], Moscow, 1995.

Lubaina Himidi (born 1954 in Zanzibar) is a sculptor, designer, art historian, and teacher. Her first solo exhibition was held in London in 1986; Ibrahim al-Salahi (born in Sudan in 1930) is an artist, writer, poet; teacher, mentor of young artists. Lives in Oxford (UK). One of the founders of the Khartoum Art School. The artist's works are represented in the collections of many museums around the world (including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Gallery, Berlin; the National Gallery of Victoria, Sydney).

El Anatsui. 17 A Sculptured History of Africa. L., October Gallery, 1998. P. 36.

Kofi Setorji 18 (b. 1957) - sculptor, author of a series of works about the victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda ("The Grief of survivors", "Who are the Judges?", "Refugees", "Only Statistics").


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