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February 23, 2009

El Anatsui

[Ed. Note: Here's another post from Seven Days co-editor Pamela Polston.]

I was bummed Sunday morning to see that the New York Times Style Magazine used "A Stimulus Package" as its headline; we came up with our title, "Stimulus Package," for this week's Sex Survey writeup, well before seeing that (credit to Ken Picard). Oh, well, guess the economy is on everyone's mind.

Not that you could tell from the usual overpriced merchandise in the mag. But buried among the fashionista talk and outré outfits was an article about El Anatsui, the increasingly well-known Ghanaian artist (though he's long lived in Nigeria) who makes spectacular "cloth" wall hangings from discarded, flattened metal liquor caps and other found items. The piece caught my eye because Dartmouth's Hood Museum had an El Anatsui exhibit two years ago entitled "Gawu," featuring several of these works. In fact, the Hood acquired, called "Hover," for its own collection.

I had never heard of this artist before, but I'm glad to know about him now, and also to know that some of his works will be featured at the Museum for African Art in NYC in 2011, when that facility reopens in a new home on upper Fifth Ave. I've visited its current quarters on lower B'way several times — very cool place. You can see an artist's rendering of the new digs here. I learned at this site that the NEA gave the museum $100K to support the El Anatsui retrospective, which is called "When I Last Wrote to You About Africa" — let's hear it for arts funding!

I also learned that, meanwhile, the MAA and Brooklyn's Bric Gallery are cohosting an El Anatsui show of drawings this spring.

What's this got to do with Vermont? Nothing, really, except for those who like to scoot down to NY once in a while and take in some culture we don't have here. Also, El Anatsui's work is related conceptually to that of any number of artists in Vermont and around the U.S. who give new life to debris and recycled materials. For local "green" art, one need look no further than the annual CSWD show, "Creative ReUse," which just closed at Frog Hollow in Burlington. Or central VT artist Janet Van Fleet, who has long made wonderful critters out of found wood and metal bits — see her new blog here.

For powerful artwork that is both creatively recycled and antiwar, check out the new "Combat Paper" show at Burlington's Firehouse Gallery. The opening last Friday was packed, and the Iraq war vets-turned-artists will be holding paper-making workshops on six Saturdays — see schedule here. At the reception, the artists were giving out MREs in their plain brown packages. I snagged some white rice with a bunch of chemical-sounding additives.

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