Courtesy of El Anatsui, October Gallery and Jack Shainman Gallery

El Anatsui is one of the most impactful artists of our time. As a sculptor, he shows an incomparable capacity to experiment with his materials, medium, and process. El collects diverse materials, puts them aside in his studio for years, and then returns to them intermittently, until he figures out the right language for inventing completely new sculptural forms. The breathtaking combination of experimental rigor and inspired vision turns such unassuming materials as printer’s plates or liquor-bottle caps into the magnificent constructions and compositions displayed around the world, from a recent solo show in Seoul to his upcoming commission at London’s Tate Modern.

Less public, but just as important, is El’s unflinching generosity of spirit. As his career grew, so has his remarkable propensity to support not just other artists but also individuals, families, and institutions in his community in Nsukka and across Nigeria. And he does all this without fanfare, as if it is only but a life mission. That, for me, is the mark of greatness.

Okeke-Agulu is an artist, critic, and art historian at Princeton and the author of El Anatsui: The Reinvention of Sculpture

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