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Exclusive | El Anatsui: Language & Symbols


Production still from the Exclusive video “El Anatsui: Language & Symbols.”

Our latest Exclusive video is now live! Click to watch El Anatsui: Language & Symbols art

Filmed in 2011 at The Museum of Modern Art in Hayama, Japan, El Anatsui discusses the role of language and symbols in his artwork. When naming works such as “Gli” (2010), Anatsui often uses his native language of Ewe because Ewe words can have a range of meanings when pronounced differently. Anatsui also describes the formative experience of discovering adinkra symbols, a West African system of abstract symbols that represent specific concepts or aphorisms.

El Anatsui is featured in the Season 6 (2012) episode “Change” of the Art in the Twenty-First Century program on PBS. Watch full episodes online for free via Art21.orgPBS Video or Hulu, as a paid download via iTunes, or as part of a Netflix streaming subscription.

CREDITS: Producer: Ian Forster. Consulting Producer: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Susan Sollins. Camera: Takahisa Araki & Joel Shapiro. Sound: Steve Bores. Editor: Morgan Riles. Artwork Courtesy: El Anatsui & Museum for African Art. Special Thanks: Lisa Binder, The Museum of Modern Art, Hayama, Japan, Jack Shainman Gallery & Wellesley College. Theme Music: Peter Foley.


  1. Nettrice says:

    Thanks for this. It was very helpful for my research, i.e. the concept of bricolage (making do with whatever is on hand). The idea of an artwork having multiple meanings is largely a non-Western or vernacular construct. Cultural theorist Paul Willis writes about how commodities (artifacts) can be taken out of context, claimed in a particular way, developed and repossessed to express something very different from what the creator or producer intended. In this case El Anatsui presents us with the information and allows us to ask our own questions or come up with our own answers.

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