El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born 1944) Peju's Robe 2006

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Lot 9* W
El Anatsui
(Ghanaian, born 1944)
Peju's Robe

Sold for £ 806,500 (US$ 1,075,958) inc. premium
El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born 1944)
Peju's Robe

aluminium and copper wire

245 by 310 cm.
96 7/16 by 122 1/16 in.

This work was executed in 2006.


  • We are grateful to the artist who has kindly confirmed the date of execution of this work.

    Acquired directly from the artist by the previous owner circa 2006
    Thence by descent to the present owner

    The artist states:

    "Commissioned by someone whom I considered a friend, confidant and was my legal advisor for several decades, Peju's Robe mirrors the original owner's effervescent, playful and caring personality yet sombre and revered tone of the legal profession's use of black robes which still obtains in courts in Nigeria today. This piece has special personal resonance for me."

    Huge and shimmering, a mighty cascade of colour and light, El Anatsui's Peju's Robecontinually curves, folds and flows as if possessed with a spirit of its own. Created from materials which would otherwise have been discarded, this is a work of art which turns the unwanted detritus of everyday life into precious artistic treasure. Constantly changing, reacting to the surrounding light and air, it embodies the artist's belief in the volatility of the human existence, referencing the state of flux in which we all exist. Difficult to categorise, El Anatsui himself first referred to such works as 'metal cloths', later describing them as 'metal works' or 'metal sheets', it exists on the vague boundaries between picture and object, between sculpture and textile, between two and three dimensions. Inspired by long traditions of artistic practice, and yet creating something startlingly original, Peju's Roberepresents a meeting of worlds, a mix of cultures, taking elements from art both European and African to produce something unique.

    Despite its dramatically luxurious appearance, all glinting sparkles of gold and silver which catch and reflect the light, Peju's Robeis formed from the most commonplace of materials, namely the metal bottle caps used throughout the world. El Anatsui takes the caps, discarded when the glass bottles themselves are recycled, cuts them and opens them up, then bolts them together and links them with copper wire to create the stunning visual effect that we witness in the present work. By making use of metallic scraps which would otherwise have reached the end of their useful existence, in effect breathing new life into purposeless objects, El Anatsui's work is reminiscent of the Ready-
    Mades of Picasso, or the Compressions of César. The artist himself is well aware of the transformative power of his recycling of apparently mundane, low status objects in his artwork, referring here specifically to his use of bottle tops: "I return them to use by giving them a different function – a higher function – maybe even the ultimate function. Each bottle-top returning as an object of contemplation has the capacity to reveal to us a more profound understanding of life than it ever did as a stopper" (the artist in: newafricanmagazine.com, 6 March 2015).

    Although he was born in Ghana in 1944, El Anatsui is now most closely associated with his adopted country of Nigeria. He began teaching at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka in 1975, and has become an important member of the artistic community which works and lives around this esteemed institution. His early sculptures employed materials such as wood and clay, often displaying the influence of traditional Ghanian art and its spiritual belief system. Already an established name in his native continent, it was the bottle top works which propelled El Anatsui to international stardom in the twenty-first century. In particular, his inclusion in the 2007 Venice Biennale, at which he hung an enormous 'metal sheet' work from the gothic façade of the Palazzo Fortuny to great acclaim, helped to establish his worldwide reputation. Since then other such monumental works have also been installed in front of other notable buildings, including London's Royal Academy and Berlin's Alte Nationalgalerie. It is a result of such installations that El Anatsui has been transformed from the status of a respected African artist to a global contemporary art sensation. His work is now held in the collections of many notable museums and galleries, including the British Museum, London, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, The de Young Museum in San Francisco, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, and MoMA New York. In 2015 he was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 56th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, and was described by the judges as "perhaps the most significant living African artist working on the continent today".

    Finally emerging at last from the shadows of Post-Colonialism to take its rightful place on the world stage, the last decade or so has witnessed an inexorable rise in the profile of African art. But whilst many successful African artists have felt the need to leave the continent to develop their careers, El Anatsui has remained in Nsukka, still drawing inspiration from the place that he loves. Works such as Peju's Robedisplay the diverse mix of influences that his long life and career have garnered. It is a work of art imbued with the colours and textures of Nigeria, as reminiscent of the colourful interwoven fabrics of South Ghana known as Kente cloth, as it is of the glistening, gilded canvases of Gustav Klimt.

    Having first discovered the artistic capacities of the bottle top in 1998, the artist still remains in the thrall of this marvellous material, stating boldly that "I could spend the rest of my career using bottle tops because there's an open-endedness – a sense of freedom present in this medium" (the artist in; Susan Mullin Vogel, El Anatsui: Art and Life, London 2012, p.70). Such works are created without any planning or pre-drawing, they simply emerge from the fusion of the artist's input and the sheer unpredictability of the medium. In effect, the end result is dictated as much by the capricious nature of the bottle tops as it is by the hand of the artist himself. Peju's Robeis an audacious work of art which refuses to accept the possible limitations of its humble materiality. Amorphous, brimming with endless variety, composed of countless disparate elements, its potential is limitless, and its beauty endless.
El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born 1944) Peju's Robe 2006
El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born 1944) Peju's Robe 2006
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