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University of Iowa News Release

Release: Feb. 21, 2003

Ghanian Sculptor Will Give Public Lecture at UI March 5

Sculptor El Anatsui from Ghana will give a free public lecture on his work at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 5 in Room E109 of the University of Iowa Art Building.

Anatsui, who has taught at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, since 1975, is on the UI campus as a guest of the School of Art and Art History.

Anatsui was born in 1944 in Anyako, in southeastern Ghana, and trained at the College of Art, University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. The work he created in Ghana is best known for the incisions made with hot irons on round or spherical market trays of Ghanaian wood.

At Nsukka, and later when he briefly lived in Wales, Anatsui worked in clay, often combined with manganese, to create unusual objects based on traditional Ghanaian beliefs. He then turned to making wall panels formed from strips of wood placed side by side. Designs were cut into the surface with gouges and a chain saw, blackened with the flame of an acetylene torch. Some wood surfaces and some designs were painted.

More recently he has fabricated freestanding wood pieces and entire installations. Anatsui freely utilizes local craft products, such as Ghanaian trays and Igbo palm mortars, as well as the natural materials of wood and clay. The aesthetic qualities of his wall-hung wood panels are heightened by the inclusion of several differently colored tropical woods.

A number of themes recur in Anatsui's art. One is the destruction and reconstitution of materials as metaphors for life, experience and changes in Africa under colonialism and since independence. A second theme is associated with textiles and traditional African crafts. After he had created several wall panels from strips of wood, Anatsui realized that they resembled West African strip-woven cloth. His concern over Western scholars' misinterpretation of African history and the distortions it has caused forms a third theme.

Anatsui's art is gaining international recognition through exhibitions in Brazil, Japan, Germany, England, South Africa and the United States. He continues to search for African design systems, written languages and other indigenous forms of communication to incise in the hewn surfaces of his imposing wooden sculptures.

Further information about Anatsui, and images of his artworks, may be found on several web pages, including, and

The School of Art and Art History is part of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For information on UI arts events, visit on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Art and Art History web site at To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <>.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

CONTACT: Peter Alexander, 319-384-0072,