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Insights of an Eco Artist

Media Platform &

Creative Studio

06: Contemporary Currents - The Tale of Thousands of Recycled Bottle Caps: El Anatsui's Cascading Sculptures

Join us on a mesmerizing journey through the captivating world of El Anatsui's practice. Explore the transformative power of everyday materials and the boundless imagination of this artistic vision as we delve into the intricate layers of his work. From monumental metallic sculptures to breathtaking textile-style hangings, Anatsui's creations transcend boundaries, weaving together narratives of culture, history, and environmental consciousness.

Today, we have a captivating episode that will immerse you in the breathtaking work of a true artistic visionary. El Anatsui is a name synonymous with innovation and artistic brilliance. His work transcends boundaries and challenges our perceptions of art.

In this episode, we will talk about his body of work and career—well, some of it. The artist has an immense body of work.


EL ANATSUI is a Ghanaian sculptor who has spent much of his career living and working in Nigeria. His practice sources recycled beverage containers and bottle caps and binds the flattened out material into large sheets. The wire connections that hold the recycled material together are loosely bound so that the predominantly aluminum sculptures have freedom to move. Once the sculptures enter a gallery or museum space, Anatsui sees the rest of the art process as a collaboration. Working with each venue's staff, they create unique wall mounted shapes that reflect a kind of topography. 

Additional materials Anatsui uses are wood, cassava graters, and newspaper printing plates to create sculpture that defies categorisation. In an interview with his former student, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Anatsui discusses how liquor has functioned as a form of currency between three continents - Africa, Europe, and the United States. He talks about how this currency relates to colonialism and slavery, the role that liquor played and how it has connected and impacted each geography.

The sculptures are extremely tedious in their production and it is very hard on the hands physically to flatten out and wire the material. They are assembled with assisting artists and the forming of each piece often involves placing works in progress on the floor and stepping back to see a full picture.

Work for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall

Titled “Behind the Red Moon,” it evokes the celestial and the maritime.

“I started with the name Tate, which is not a strange name to me. I grew up in the colonial Gold Coast and until the 1960s, when another brand of sugar was introduced, the sugar that we used was Tate & Lyle sugar. So I started thinking about things which have a resonance or links to the transatlantic slave trade. Tate did not take part in the transatlantic slave trade but it benefited from its aftermath, and so I wanted to do something with this. Ghana has the largest concentration of slave castles—close to 40 or so—on its short coast. And when I visited one of the most iconic castles at Cape Coast, what struck me was that there were dungeons underground and on top of them a chapel, in a kind of heaven-and-hell combination. I wanted to recreate the portion of that castle, which showed this configuration, in a simulacrum of sugar. But the Turbine [Hall] was too small for this, so we had to drop that idea. Then I decided that with the bottle caps I’m already working with something that has links with transatlantic slave trade and sugar. And these caps are also such a versatile medium that can fit into any space, whatever the size. So that’s what I’m working with”.

About the sculpture:

Divided into three parts, the visitor encounters the first piece The Red Moon as they enter the Tate Museum. Its rich red rendition of a “blood moon,” only visible during a total lunar eclipse

After this comes The World, in which ethereal forms intended to evoke human figures—or perhaps, spirits—swirl around each other in a sphere. 

Finally, is a breathtaking work called The Wall, a sheet of black metal cloth that cascades and ripples from a staggering height. The eye is guided across its vast expanse by a smattering of shimmering patterns, and viewers who venture behind will be met by a multi-colored mosaic on the reverse.

“In an unconscious way, my works are about the freedom for people to do things. I have a hidden aim of waking up the artist in everybody and if you give people the challenge and say, ‘here is something folded and you can open it and do whatever you want to do’, it wakes up the artist in them and frees the imagination. Freedom is so very important, it can ameliorate so many things.”


As we wrap up this captivating journey through the world of El Anatsui's artistry, we want to express our heartfelt gratitude to all of you, our incredible listeners, and the artistic community at large.


El Anatsui's work is not just art; it's a testament to the power of creativity, imagination, and the ability to transform everyday materials into something truly extraordinary. As for those of you who are looking to build a practice around suitability, I hope this one has inspired you to search for new avenues of exploration with materials.


But the story doesn't end here. It continues with you, our listeners, and the broader artistic community. We encourage you to keep the conversation going. Share your thoughts, interpretations, and inspirations drawn from Anatsui's work. 

Share your work and opinion with us on social media @insightsofanecoartist and use the #IOAEAelanatsui"



Have a look at the artist's works:

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