what bottle caps can be: el anatsui’s liquid mosaics


Jodi Bieber

Some time ago in the New York Sunday Times Style Magazine, Alexi Worth wrote about El Anatsui, an African artist who uses twist-off bottle caps to make shimmering sculptures that look like liquid mosaics. The story of how El Anatsui discovered his unlikely material for art is compelling. It is a fine example of the mindset that can lead to discovery and improvisation, and often fantastic creations: curiosity, openness, listening to materials, a willingness to experiment, patience:

“One day ten years ago in the countryside of southern Nigeria, a slim middle-aged man drove past a bag of garbage. Garbage is not an unusual sight in West Africa; village roads are often lined with a parallel hillock of trash – dusty bottles, spoiled food, tin cans, car parts – out of which small trees sometimes grow. But this solitary bag looked promising. It was a quiet, sunny late afternoon in the dry season. The man stopped the car and walked over to look inside…”


Jodi Bieber

…[There wasn’t] anything especially remarkable inside the bag Anatsui found. Discarded by a local distillery, it held thousands of aluminum screw-tops from bottles of whiskey, rum and gin, bearing names like Flying Horse, Castello, Bakassi, Liquor Headmaster, Ecomog and Dark Sailor.

For a few months, the bag sat untouched in Anatsui’s studio, while the artist continued to work on the abstract wood sculptures that had made him, in his mid-50s, among the most widely recognized African artists. At his own unhurried pace, Anatsui began experimenting with the bottle tops – cutting and folding their pliable metal into flat swatches, and then stitching these together with copper wire. The result, as it grew, began to resemble fabric, a coarse, jangly metal cloth.”

A decade later, Anatusi’s intricate compositions made of humble materials have toured the world, and are collected by some of the world’s most famous museums.


Jack Shainman Gallery

What would happen if we could slow down enough to let ourselves stumble on things, play with them, mess around, at whatever time seems right, to follow whatever path unfolds…?

3 Responses to what bottle caps can be: el anatsui’s liquid mosaics

  1. constance 12.11.2009 at 4:10pm #

    I love El Anatsui’s work–imagine metal fabric constructed from tiny pieces, ooooo beautiful.

  2. Helen 01.21.2013 at 9:07am #

    I have been a fan of El Anatsui for some time, loving the sheer wonder of making something so beautiful from recycled materials. I will be sharing this artist and interesting website with my class this week. I hope more artists will become fans!

  3. Janet E.S. Hart 03.21.2013 at 1:04pm #

    Mr.el anatsui’s work is beautiful. Just looking at pictures of his work is a gift to my soul. I hope I will see a piece of his work someday. Every time I look at a picture of his work, I thank him.

    Janet E.S. Hart

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