El Anatsui (Ghanaian, b. 1944), Between Earth and Heaven, 2006. Aluminum, copper wire; 86 3/4 in. x 10 ft. 6 in. (220.3 x 320 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Fred M. and Rita Richman, Noah-Sadie K. Wachtel Foundation Inc., David and Holly Ross, Doreen and Gilbert Bassin Family Foundation and William B. Goldstein Gifts, 2007 (2007.96)
In this work, Anatsui has effected the translation of a familiar icon, a conceptual action on the order of Jasper Johns' appropriation of the American flag. The classic kente textile tradition produced by Asante and Ewe weavers has been subjected to a complete transformation and yet is recognizable in vestigial form. Through the animated surface of a sculptural idiom he calls attention to the dynamism of Ghanaian textiles whose shimmering luminosity, dense composition, and immense rippling presence viscerally engage the viewer. Anatsui's painstakingly constructed "metal textiles" composed of aluminum particles constitute flexible and pliable structures that are highly adaptable and responsive to manipulation. Their impermanence and indeterminacy are qualities that appear antithetical to our preconceptions of sculpture. The artist's refinement of base metal into a work of transcendent beauty may be likened to alchemy. As early as the third century, gold mined in Ghana was being transported across the Sahara as a coveted substance on the world market. In the fifteenth century, European traders traveled to Ghana's coast in search of direct access to this precious resource. Over time, textiles and liquor were among the major trade items they imported to the region in exchange for gold and slaves. Through the materials and iconography of this work the artist reflects on the convergence of African, European, and American history.