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What defines El Anatsui’s ‘Behind the Red Moon’?

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Examining the latest work by Ghanaian sculptor at Tate Modern.

The turbine hall of the Tate Modern, commonly known as the grand centre place of the gallery, has introduced a new stunning installation by Ghanaian sculpture El Anatsui named Behind the Red Moon.

Along with a number of other African artists who have work displayed in the Tate during black history month, Anatsui displayed three grand sculptures at the heart of the Tate through the use of bottle tops found in Nigeria along with metal fragments that had been crushed and joined together by hand sewn copper wire. With the help of his old and current students, a stunning wave of colour and texture occupied the Tate’s entrance.

The first view of the third act of Behind the Red Moon ‘The Wall’

The intrigue in attendees’ faces as I had walked into the space was unmatched. One particular piece, the third piece of his installation named The Wall, seemed to catch the eyes of all gallery goers who walked into the Tate that morning.

Described as a  ‘monumental black wall from floor to ceiling’, the piece was followed by duel appearance as the back of the piece had several splashes of yellow, orange and red, a surprise to most who were initially met with colder colours that cascading along the floor.

One art lover I discussed this piece with stated “Anatsui definitely has a way of surprising his audience with colour, he can manage to tell a story based on the colours he uses and defines said story with the way he will shape it”.

The exhibition, as well as its use of colours and materials, tells the story of colonisation as well as the slave trade over the Atlantic.

During the European colonisation of many countries in Africa, many Europeans would drink beer and litter the continent with European beer tops; this may have also been the same when Americans came to take Africans over the Atlantic to work.

It’s powerful to use Nigerian materials and drink tops to emulate this. When first coming across this particular piece, the colours and materials reminded me a lot of things I would find in my home country, Ethiopia.

I stumbled across an individual from the same country who had discussed this with me: “I tend to see a lot of waste in African countries, sadly due to bigger problems  it is hard to keep Africa clear of trash, however, it is amazing to see this beautiful, sustainable art piece.”

The Wall is made with over two million bottle tops that have been rolled in barrels and shipped to the UK from Nigeria and put together by the team at Tate with the collaborative help of El Anatsui himself.

A Tate steward claimed “This piece and the installation all together is very powerful, it comments on many aspects of black history but also his (El Anatsui’s) own back-story as an artist.”

She continued to discuss with me people’s reactions and views on this piece: “people really want to know the history on this, there is a big fascination, the entire installation is amazing however this seems to be the piece that really draws people.”

This came as a great comfort, that during an important month for black people and black history, art viewers are interested in the back-story behind such a great piece.

The Wall along with the entirety of Anastui’s installation definitely has found its place and is allowing others to go deeper into their intrigue about the great black history, of this country and beyond.


Featured image by Lena Teshome.

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