About five years ago, I found El Anatsui  alone in front of a monitor watching one of my films at the De Young Museum – a man I had known for ages but hadn’t seen in recent years. Back then, I was a museum specialist in African art, but had since evolved into a film maker and professor dealing with African art and modernity – during the same time, he had invented a whole new medium for making art and was well into his series of astonishing large bottle-top hangings.  It seemed obvious that I should make a film on him, and he liked the idea.

We began shooting in Venice at the Biennale where Anatsui was installing the three important works that first brought him wide international attention.  After years as an advocate for African art, I could film an African artist draping his bottle top masterpiece over the entire façade of a 16th century palazzo with lovely Venice as my backdrop.  I had found a gripping story and a visual feast. I was in heaven.

I had teamed up with Isaac Kpelle as Associate producer and DP – having worked together in Djenne, Mali and Kumase, Ghana, we fell into step right away.  Our next shoot, at Anatsui’s home and studio in Nigeria, proved less challenging than we had feared – unreliable electricity and scant running water were nothing new, and we got great footage of Anatsui directing a dozen assistants and actually creating one of his hangings on the studio floor.

The hardest part of making this film turned out to be choosing the narrative structure, and finding music that could characterize Anatsui and artworks that are so notoriously hard to define. For many months, Harry Kafka, who had worked with me on four earlier films, thrashed it out with me in the edit suite, until  our different experiments with form and music finally reached a point that satisfied us both.  We had arrived at solutions for structure and music that were pretty much the opposite of what people expected, so were relieved to hear screeners say they got it.

For me, this  has been a dream project, blending my art historian’s understanding of Africa and African art with the skills I had been honing since I left film school at NYU’s Tisch School in 1999. El Anatsui, a friend I admired and I felt connected to, had become a star of the art world. Through the camera, I saw his artworks move in seductive ways, and make dramatic noises – his gorgeous, glittering sheets of bottle-tops were movie stars too.

Susan Vogel

Director’s statement

fold crumple crush: the art of el anatsui


The conclusion of this film left me with so much rich material and so many ideas that could not be expressed in film that I have gone on to write a book.

EL ANATSUI: ART AND LIFE, published by Prestel Verlag, Munich and New York, will appear October 1, 2012.