Keep Those Bottle Tops

The Hard Labor of African Art

The Daily Pic: Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui makes art about manual workers (including his).

08.06.13 6:45 PM ET

This is “Earth’s Skin", one of many giant installations in the solo show that the Brooklyn Museum is giving to the Ghanaian-born artist El Anatsui. I haven’t been convinced by any of the readings that I’ve heard of these pieces, which either center on their visual splendor or on their tenuous (or cliched) connection to aspects of “African" culture. Taking in the show the other day, I realized that a more interesting, profitable reading would have to center on issues of labor – on the tedious labor expended by El Anatsui’s hordes of assistants, as they flatten and pierce thousands of metal bottle caps and soup-can lids, and on the history of Africans laboring on behalf of Western rulers, to satisfy Western tastes and demands.

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