Solar Eclipse, 2014

© El Anatsui. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

El Anatsui, born Ghana, 1944
Solar Eclipse, 2014
Found aluminum, copper wire, and mixed media
81 x 209 inches installed

The three-dimensional works of Ghanian artist El Anatsui are beguiling—at first glance, because they fluidly cascade down walls like fine tapestries, they appear to be large swatches of intricately patterned fabric. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that they are not crafted from natural fibers but constructed from rigid scraps of metal, wire, and liquor bottle caps. Their materiality confounds the stereotype of metal being inflexible while merging African textile traditions with modernist artistic practices and alluding to the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade which, among its many side effects, introduced alcohol into the African economy. Just as Anatsui’s work plays with media, his titles play with words. Once completed, a work is given an ambiguous title, one that allows for multiple interpretations to coexist. When naming a piece, the artist generally responds to a work’s formal characteristics while evoking larger themes that resonate on local and global scales. In Solar Eclipse, several circular forms emerge within its gilded surface—two silver circles coalesce on the lower left while a darker, multi-chromatic circular outline materializes on the right. Compositionally, the work is reminiscent of diagrams that illustrate the phases of a solar eclipse, which occurs when the moon gets between the Earth and the sun, casting a shadow over the planet. Metaphorically, the work asks us to contemplate the passage of time, how objects bear traces of history, how life is permeated by periods of lightness and darkness.

Heather Cammarata-Seale, Curatorial Associate for Modern and Contemporary Art at Princeton University Art Museum