Bonhams has achieved a world record price for El Anatsui, he Ghanaian artist. The work titled ‘New World Map’ has sold for £541,250 ($850,544) in London. A fortnight ago another tapestry by El Anatsui, smaller in scale, sold at a Bonhams charity auction in New York for $722,500.
The large tapestry measuring 350x500cm is form the same series as the work exhibited at the Venice Biennale. Giles Peppiatt, Director of Contemporary African Art at Bonhams, says: “We are delighted make a world record with this stunning work. It speaks of Africa in its use of traditional patterning but is very much of the moment – a massive hauntingly beautiful contemporary statement.”
El Anatsui is widely recognized as one of the world’s foremost contemporary artists. He was born in Ghana in 1944 but is now based in Nigeria, where he is Head of Sculpture in the Fine and Applied Arts Department at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His work draws on the broad spectrum of indigenous African cultures and is particularly concerned with the erosion of inherited traditions by external forces and the nature of their continued transmission. He often links his work to events, people and current and historical issues. These hanging pieces are based on the traditional narrow-strip woven silk cloth made in Ghana, a source of national pride.
Anatsui was born in Anyako, and trained at the College of Art, University of Science and Technology, in Kumasi, in central Ghana. He began teaching at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1975, and has become affiliated with the Nsukka group. Anatsui’s preferred media are clay and wood, which he uses to create objects based on traditional Ghanaian beliefs and other subjects. He has cut wood with chainsaws and blackened it with acetylene torches; more recently, he has turned to installation art. Some of his works resemble woven cloths such as kente cloth. Anatsui also incorporates uli and nsibidi into his works alongside Ghanaian motifs. El Anatsui has exhibited his work around the world, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2008–09)National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C. (2008); Venice Biennale (2007); Hayward Gallery (2005); Liverpool Biennial (2002); the National Museum of African Art (2001); the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (2001); the 8th Osaka Sculpture Triennale (1995); and the Venice Biennale (1990).
A retrospective of his work, subtitled When I Last Wrote to You About Africa opened at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, in October 2010. It will be touring North America for the next 3 years.