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Bottle Tops

The Art of El Anatsui



Lee & Low Books

(pub. May 2022) 40 pages

Author: Alison Goldberg

Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon

Character: El Anatsui


"The inspiring biography of Ghanaian artist El Anatsui whose handmade sculptures, created from discarded bottle tops, have received international acclaim and been showcased around the world.​

If you touch something, you leave a charge on it and anybody else touching it connects with you, in a way. -- El Anatsui

El Anatsui has always written his own story. As an art student at the University of Ghana, El noticed that the artists and styles he was studying were grounded in European traditions. Curious about his own culture's art history, El observed his people and found stories in the fabrics they wore and the way they used recycled goods. He decided to tell these stories through his artwork."

Tantalizing taste:

"In 2007, El brought his bottle tops to Venice.

As he hung his thirty-foot-tall sculpture, he created curves to reflect the light and folds for catching shadows. He cut holes to reveal the building underneath.

The sculpture wove together old art traditions and original techniques. Recalling history, and shaping the present. Attached, and flexible. El gave it a name: Fresh and Fading Memories.

Viewers stood close, admiring the small metal shapes. They stood back, astonished by the bottle tops' transformation into an enormous, shimmering cloth. This sculpture was unlike anything people had ever seen.

El had found a new medium for making art.

Linked together, bottle tops can cover buildings They can tell stories about history and culture - stories that link people together.

Today, El's bottle tops tell stories all over the world.

When I started with the aluminum tops I had a small feeling somewhere that it wouldn't last too long. But today, fresh ideas keep coming and I now feel that it's something endless."

And something more: I was thrilled to see another picture book biography illustrated by the talented Elizabeth Zunon (who illustrated our MY HANDS SING THE BLUES - Romare Bearden's Childhood Journey). I enjoyed reading her introduction to BOTTLE TOPS on her website ( :

"I first saw El’s work while visiting the High Museum of Art in Atlanta with my brother and our mom in 2016. I initially thought those pieces on exhibit were Kente fabrics, and didn’t realize until a closer look that they were made up of little metal pieces from bottle caps. I was mesmerized by the technique and the amount of time it must have taken to create such monumental art. Investigating El’s artistic processes inspired me to re-think my own art-making techniques and what is possible."

I too was amazed by El Anatsui's enormous artwork when I saw his piece, Strips of Earth's Skin, at the Broad in Los Angeles - shimmering, glimmering, powerfully beautiful.


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