Africa has added a feather to its cap with the April election of the artist, El Anatsui, to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Academy is one of the US’s most prestigious honorary societies. Members of the 2014 class include winners of the Nobel Prize, the Wolf Prize , the Pulitzer Prize, the National Medal of the Arts , MacArthur, Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships and Grammy, Emmy, Oscar and Tony Awards.

The only African besides Anatsui to become a new member is the Kenyan novelist and English and Comparative Literature scholar, Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Former members include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Graham Bell, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr , Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Laurence Olivier, Mary Leakey and Nelson Mandela.

Last March, Anatsui was appointed “Honorary Academician” of the Royal Academy of Arts. This permits him to affix the title “Hon RA” to his name. The late Nigerian artist, Ben Enwonwu, is the only other African to be conferred with the title “Honorary Academician” of Britain’s most prestigious art body. This was in 1948.

In honouring  El Anatsui, the Academy’s President, Christopher Le Brun said :”… this appointment (is) reserved for artists of distinguished  reputation, which marks the respect and admiration  felt by the Members of the Academy for your outstanding services to the Arts” .Current Honorary Academicians include artists such as Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons and Ai Weiwei.

Last November, El Anatsui made the list of the world’s most rated people in the  Art World. The list is named “2013 power 100” and is a ranked and definitive guide of the contemporary art world’s most powerful artists, curators, collectors, critics and gallerists driving the international contemporary art scene. Those listed are ranked in order of influence in the often invisible structure of today’s art world. Anatsui , a new entrant, is the only African artist to make the list so far.

El Anatsui’s sculptural work can be found in scores of private collections globally and continentally, and in the permanent collections of more than 40 major international museums; 13 of America’s leading museums included. Some of these are The Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y; The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washignton, D.C; and The Museum for Modern Art, N.Y. Other public collections include Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle; The British Museum, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo; Jordan National Gallery of Arts, Amman; The World Bank  Art Collection , Washington ,D.C; UNAIDS  Geneva ; Ghana National Art Collection, Accra; and The National Gallery of Modern Art, Lagos. Anatsui’s work, which is now accepted globally as a “hard–to–categorise” art form, has featured more than once at The Venice Biennale, the most prestigious event in the international art calendar. He has exhibited on six continents.

El Anatsui, who is the subject of numerous reviews, articles, art books, biographies, videos and films, was, until 2011 when he retired, Professor of Sculpture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) and a former Head of Department of Fine & Applied Arts.  Professor Anatsui, who is Ghanaian, has lived and worked in Nigeria since 1975. He has won various honours and prizes in Italy, Japan, Germany, the US, Britain, The Netherlands and Ghana; among which is one of Britain’s most significant art prizes - The Charles Wollaston Award – by the Royal Academy of Arts. This was for “Tsiatsia”, Anatsui’s monumental winning piece, which came first over 13,000 entries worldwide. Only two Africans have so far won this award in the exhibition’s 245-year history:  Anatsui in 2013 and Yinka Shonibare, the Nigerian-British artist in 2010.

To mark the 70th birthday anniversary of this globally acclaimed contemporary artist, the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, recently hosted a series of events in his honour.
                                                                  
Therese Nweke
(5th Avenue, D Close, House 6, FESTAC Town, Lagos)
[email protected]

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