Born in Ghana and based in Nigeria, El Anatsui crafts giant shimmering sheets from bottle caps, reused aluminum commercial packaging, copper wire, and other materials. The elaborate works hang like tapestries referencing kente cloth, all-purpose pieces of fabric used in Nigerian and sub-Saharan African culture for everything from washcloths to dresses. The function of the kente cloth is often determined by its context. Red Block can be thought of in a similar manner; the firm square of woven red liquor labels can be folded and hung according to the dictates and curation of the institution that displays it. The materials are embedded with multiple histories and influences, ranging from the effect of the colonial period on Africa to current problems facing its people, including alcoholism, pervasive poverty, and the impact of global markets on the continent’s economies.
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