In Paris, the Conciergerie is hosting “Looking for Freedom”, a carte blanche exhibition by the artist El Anatsui as part of the Africa 2020 Season. An ode to freedom that echoes the history of the monument, to be discovered until 14 November 2021.
El Anastsui and the Africa2020 season
Still little known to the French public, El Anatsui is nevertheless a key artist in Africa and recognised on the international scene. Born in Ghana in 1944, he was awarded a Golden Lion for his body of work at the Venice Biennale in 2015 and the Preaenium Imperial Prize in 2017.
In this Africa2020 season placed under the sign of youth, El Anatsui is the doyen, but his commitment to education and transmission is fully in line with the theme of the transmission of knowledge, which is dear to this event. In addition to his work as an artist, El Anatsui has devoted his life to teaching. By financing artists’ collectives, equipping schools and granting scholarships to students, he has left his mark on generations of artists.
A work that resonates with the history of the Conciergerie
As part of the “One artist, one monument” programme, the Centre des Monuments Nationaux invited El Anatsui to create an exhibition for the Conciergerie. A place large enough to allow him to multiply his mediums, but also a space full of history and sometimes a little intimidating by its past. A former royal residence open to the city, the Conciergerie has been closed over the centuries to the point of becoming a detention centre under the Terror.
El Anatsui therefore wanted to resonate with this plural history by proposing an installation conducive to contemplation and poetry. In the middle of the imposing columns of the Salle des Gens d’Armes, two video installations, like two rivers, broadcast the movements of the Seine, in reference to the two arms of the river that surround the Cité Island and in echo of the floods of 1910 of which the Conciergerie keeps the traces, recalling that the Seine had already entered its walls.
These installations rest on railway tracks, evoking the journey. On the sides, fifty or so rocks are placed on which one can sit to meditate and become a living part of the installation.
In the fireplaces and on the walls, six metal sculptures created with alcohol bottle caps and can blades are like doors opening towards an elsewhere that everyone can imagine.
“I believe that when a human being touches something, he or she transmits a form of energy to it; there is therefore a link between all the people who have handled one of these multiple elements. I feel, through my work, that I am connecting these people to each other and, more broadly, creating a link between all of humanity.”
– El Anatsui
A “Quest for Freedom” as an invitation to let go
With this exhibition, El Anatsui leaves plenty of room for freedom of interpretation. His sculptures open doors to the history of the monument and to an infinite field of possibilities. The title “In search of freedom” embodies this letting go to which the artist invites us. When visiting this installation, everyone is free to escape and find their own interpretation.
And if this work has been thought about for many months already, this ode to freedom resonates particularly in this period of pandemic which has strongly impacted the work of El Anatsui. The closure of borders and the health risks have prevented him from returning to France for over a year, and the development of this work has had to be done at a distance between his production company based in Madrid, his gallery in London and the teams in Paris. With our new-found joy at being able to frequent cultural venues again, we appreciate all the more this ode to freedom that El Anatsui delivers to us in this majestic place that is the Conciergerie.
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Seeing and re-seeing the Conciergerie
With its programme inviting major contemporary artists (such as Stéphane Thidet or Georges Rousse) but also presenting more traditional exhibitions (we remember Saint-Louis or the brilliant exhibition devoted to Marie-Antoinette), the Conciergerie invites the public to (re)discover the monument and to take a new look at this impressive place each time.
I can only encourage you to take advantage of your visit to have the curiosity to go beyond the exhibition and to push open the doors of the fascinating revolutionary journey.
2 boulevard du Palais
75001 Paris – France
Until 14 November 2021
Every day from 9.30 am to 6 pm
Article produced in collaboration with the Centre des Monuments Nationaux