Anatsui’s large-scale tapestries are made of bottle caps and foil seals from liquor bottles. The artist connects these materials with copper wire, then drapes the resulting “fabric” in horizontal folds and hangs it on the wall. Anatsui first achieved international recognition in the 1990s for his work in wood and ceramics. He began using discarded bottle caps at the end of that decade, attracted to them partly for the way their bent forms retain traces of the hands that pried them off and cast them away. Linked together, the bottle caps and foil seals allude to the importance of liquor as an international trade commodity in colonial and postcolonial Africa.
The red portions of the metallic surface of Bleeding Takari II appear to soak into the “cloth” and drip onto the floor like blood. Yet the violence implied need not be seen as entirely destructive. Regeneration, Anatsui has said, “comes with blood as well, like childbirth,” and brokenness and decay can also be “a condition for new growth, rebirth.” Anatsui uses the term “Takari” freely to designate, in his words, “any thing, person, object, country, even continent.” Thus the “bleeding” of the title might describe the condition of an individual, a group, or all living things.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
El Anatsui creates sculptures that allude to contemporary consumer habits and to the history of colonialism in his home nation and in his current country of residence, Nigeria. This shimmering sheet is composed of liquor-bottle caps and seals discarded by Nigerian distilleries. Anatsui and his assistants have flattened, folded, and carefully linked the pieces together with copper wire, creating a simple repetition of forms on a grand scale. For Anatsui, bottle caps represent “the material which was there at the beginning of the contact between two continents.” In the complex networks of exchange established between Africa and Europe as early as the fifteenth century, Europeans used alcohol to barter for African goods, and alcohol eventually became a key commodity in the transatlantic slave trade. Like all of Anatsuis malleable hanging sculptures, Bleeding Takari II looks slightly different each time it is installed. The title is evocative yet purposefully mysterious: “Takari” is a fictional name created by the artist, with no specific referent.
Gallery label from 2013.