A Note on El Anatsui
I never felt like Rauschenberg, Herms, and Arman’s trash and resourcefulness were very culturally specific – in other words, Rauschenberg’s trash does not tell a cultural story, it seems no more Texan than Herms seems Angeleno. Anatsui’s work seems specifically Nigerian to me, and I say this not from just the allusions to Kente cloth or the reference to the colonial sale of liquor (though both contribute greatly to the work's cultural specificity). I say this because of the works' economy and its elegance in execution – it is not Rauschenberg striving to reinvent seeing by looking at neglected overlooked objects or Herms' use of rubbish to alter our experiential surroundings. Anatsui’s trash earnestly wants to be an elegant art object the same way that for example, Kenyans use bits of wood to create refined sitting stools. It is an aesthetic that recalls folk art practices where people have very little, but do what they can with it.
In parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, you constantly see personal journeys towards a conception of “refinement” that people may get from the east, west, or elsewhere – people write Nike on their tee-shirts, traditional bands cover Kenny Rogers songs (weird, I know, but true), small huts with television sets call themselves theaters. I guess the question I’m asking is that if these phenomena are not “creativity at the heart of resourcefulness” and are not culturally specific, how would one talk about them?