Last summer I took an African Art history course at FIT. I thought I would be more familiar with the subject considering we study some African History in Puerto Rico... but I wasn't . Enjoy some of my essays!
Between Earth and Heaven
There is no better way of learning about Art and Art history than visiting the African Art galleries of one of New York’s most renowned museums and standing in front of the works of art that the great ancient cultures created. Well, during a recent class lecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art we were asked to select a work of art and reflect and analyze upon it. Although many of the art pieces in the galleries were astonishingly magnificent, I chose one that, while not ancient like most of the other ones, allowed me to include the knowledge acquired at the museum and translate it to the contemporary times. I chose a piece called “Between Earth and Heaven” by Ghanan artist El Anatsui .
My first reaction was WOW! I had no idea of what it was and from far away I thought it was some type of robe similar to the ones the Hausa people made, but perhaps woven with gold or some other metallic material. As I approached it, I realized that it wasn’t and that this work of art had incredible texture and relief. I thought that perhaps it was made out of pieces of fabric that were wrapped. As I got closer and closer to it, I discovered it was a very large and meticulous work of art made up of very small pieces... It is admirable. Made out of old and recycled liquor bottle caps and perhaps some cans, as well as wire or some sort of metal that was used to attach the individual pieces to each other; it doesn’t seem to represent anything concrete, just an abstract pattern with multiple colors and geometrical forms with straight lines. The artist used shapes like squares, triangles and diamonds that might resemble sacred geometry. Although some of his colors are very basic reds and yellows that from the distance seem sort of neutral and “mixed together” the way he used the golden cans allowed EL to create an incredible texture and dimension. It reflects the richness of the materials that the ancient cultures used when honoring someone of distinction
To me, it seemed to be a mark of respect to what his culture and ancestors did and the way they did it! The Kuba and Kongo textiles have been recognized and admired internationally for their beauty and reflection of refined technical skills. The “cloths” exhibited in the museum justify the several lengthy stages of preparation that these required to be made, including production and embellishment that involved intensive labor and ingenuousness. The importance of textiles was in their use as ceremonial or prestige items. The Kuba leaders sometimes even commissioned design motifs to be created as emblems of their individual legacies.
“Between Earth and Heaven” was displayed separate from the other textiles created by African peoples and hanging from a wall but not laying flat. They created some “bubbles” underneath the piece for it to appear as if it was moving or on top of something. It was next to a sculpture of Dogon or a standing man and a Bamana or Bozo Door… all three contemporary and big pieces that reflect the historical continuity whether in medium, process, format and/or significance that contemporary African Art maintains.
Casually, a friend of mine who I went to Visual Arts High School in Puerto Rico with, accompanied during my visit to the museum and she had actually attended an exhibit of the same artist called GAWU at the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, and she had he catalogue where this same piece appeared so she passed on the pictures to me from which I learned that GAWU an Ewe word (in Anatsui’s native language) means both “metal” and a “fashioned cloak”. No other world could have been more perfect. I also learned that Anatsui’s is known for creating these types of “cloths” made out of recycled materials gathered in Anatsui’s adoptive Nigeria, as a response to the “adverse effects of globalization, consumerism and waste in contemporary West Africa and beyond” and how we have the power to affect and harm the traditional practices and art forms of the native peoples.
I felt truly identified with this work of art and completely agree with the message the artist is trying to convey. I truly admire how “Between Earth and Heaven” shows how traditional societies leave a legacy for the next generations and how although some things become unnecessary as times passes, we should always value and honor the classical ways of our ancestors. At the same time I think we should not ignore modernization, and how if done conservatively, with respect, and by adoption of ancient techniques, can be a great benefit for struggling societies.