Currently on view (Gallery 304)

Rising Sea

2019Aluminum and copper wire
800 x 1400 cm

For six decades, contemporary artist El Anatsui (b. 1944 Anyako, Ghana) has been refining a pictorial language that transcends the boundaries of culture and medium. The artist is best known for his signature metal sculptures that are rooted in traditional African art forms and demonstrate a unique approach to sculpture through a global contemporary aesthetic. The artist’s astonishing technical process is informed by concepts related to African history before and after colonialization. At the heart of the work are reflections on the impact of colonization and postcolonial global forces on African cultures and the dual qualities of resilience and fragility in people and in nature.

Anatsui has remarked that: “Consciously or unconsciously the artist is always looking for new ways of presenting old ideas…a new medium, or a new process, or a new idea will bring itself organically.”  In 1998, the artist made a chance discovery of a large quantity of discarded liquor bottle tops. With a team of studio assistants, the material was employed through the labor-intensive task of flattening, twisting, crushing, and then stitching the aluminum elements together with copper wire. The first sculptures made from aluminum from liquor bottles were exhibited in 2002. Since then, he has further innovated the medium incorporating other post-consumer materials such as strips of bottle cap seals, evaporated milk cans, and printing plates to expand his practice.

For Rising Sea, the artist employed people throughout Nsukka, Nigeria, where the artist lives and works, to stitch the liquor bottle cap seals that comprise the majority of the sculpture together with copper wire, a collective process that took nearly a year. Three large resulting panels were joined to form a single expansive surface of cascading light.

Rising Sea is one of the artist’s most recently completed pieces and one of the largest. The swath of glimmering silver at the top of the work is reminiscent of a sky that is interrupted by billowing matte white waves that nearly subsume the only dashes of color at the bottom suggestive of a city skyline. The serene visual harmony stands in contrast to the title. Rising Sea serves as a reminder, or perhaps a warning, of how nature and civilizations can be transformed in an instant. The epic scale of the work is therefore a metaphor for the enormity of climate change.

Original title

Rising Sea




Aluminum and copper wire


800 x 1400 cm

Credit line

Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa


Rising Sea, by El Anatsui

Actress Cayetana Guillén Cuervo and curator Lekha Hileman Waitoller revisit the construction process of Rising Sea (2019), El Anatsui’s monumental work referring, in a most peculiar way, to the history of postcolonial Africa.