El Anatsui: The Educator (Part 2 of 2)

By Jennifer Stavrianou

The gastric juices of my stomach enter the back of my throat as I walked into the intensity of the gallery on June 14. It was the day that El Anatsui came to see the perilous installation work that the curatorial and installation teams have accomplished over the last 10 days or so.  Will he be pleased?  Will he see the attention to the details that everyone has put into the show?  Everything from the brochures to the artwork itself has been carefully orchestrated to create a true El Anatsui experience for the visitor.

A thought is hurled into my brain. This is my chance of a lifetime to meet the artist that I am studying for my thesis; to become personal with the artists thoughts and feelings behind the massive metal tapestries that now grace the walls at the museum.   And, a rare opportunity as most art historians can only dream about meeting their thesis artist because they are typically dead.  These thoughts are not helping my nervous angst at all. Until, at last the artist arrives.  Not in flashing lights and hype but in the humble graces of creativity, one step at a time.

Yes, humble.  The world-renowned artist that has successfully created works for the British Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, and Venice, Italy is not about bling and splendor but about solitude, sincerity and schooling.  Ultimately by coming to the Akron Art Museum, El wanted to teach us to be artists, to look at his work and be inspired to think about the history of his country and ours; and to instruct us as viewers to know that alone we are small but together in a community we can become great.

Many interviews were conducted while Mr. Anatsui was here, but there was a particularly inspirational one done by WKSU.   In the interview, El discussed his lifelong passion of teaching and how it transcends into the art that he creates.  He stated that, “As a teacher everyone has to awaken the artist in anyone and teach others to create a two way exchange.”  Without a doubt he has accomplished this goal by allowing the Museum to sculpt his metal works.  When looking back on the experience, I think that the most rewarding part of meeting EL was seeing the amazement on his face as he strolled up to the title wall for the show and gasped, “wow, this is a painting?”

Learning from the Akron Museum of Art’s curatorial team and installation team as well as the artist himself was a priceless experience that I was truly privileged to experience!  Thank you Akron Art Museum and Mr. Anatsui for your willingness to let me observe and fall in love again with the creative process of art!

*Jennifer Stavrianou is an up and coming art historian, specializing in contemporary African art. She has traveled nationally and internationally to: New York, Washington DC, London, Paris, Chicago and San Francisco to study contemporary artists. Her art historical writing focuses on the identity issues that multicultural artists face in today’s artistic world. She is currently writing her master’s thesis for Kent State University, focusing on contemporary artist EL Anatsui. Recently, she was awarded an internship with the Akron Art Museum to help the curatorial team with Gravity and Grace: The Monumental Works of El Anatsui.