Students will work in groups to research the area surrounding where they live in terms of geography, topography, human and physical features, infrastructure, and more. The group will use materials readily found in their environment to present an informative and artistic presentation of their findings.
Intended Age GroupSecondary (grades 6-12)
Length of LessonTwo 50 minute lessons
Standards AreaSocial Studies
Students will be able to:
- gather data, make inferences, and draw conclusions from maps and other visual representations;
- interpret various graphs, tables, charts, and thematic maps;
- analyze information using a variety of geographic tools; and
- locate physical and human features and evaluate their implications for society.
- Show students the image of Rain Has No Father? and ask them to describe what they see. What colors and shapes do they notice first? Ask if they can identify what materials were used to make the object. What clues can they use to try to discover this?
- After a visual exploration, share with students the information from the About the Art section. Mention the found objects that El Anatsui uses. Share his quote, “Art grows out of each particular situation and I believe that artists are better off working with whatever their environment throws up.” Explain to students that Rain Has No Father? was commissioned by the Denver Art Museum (DAM) and was in part inspired by the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. The About the Art section tells us that the silver cloth is perforated with slashing vertical elements symbolizing “the rain which gives way to life forms.” The three multicolored blocks spread across the top are formed from hundreds of pieces of metal carefully made into tiny open squares. Even the choice of how the artwork has been hung is telling. Show students the close up of the shadow the artwork makes against the wall (found in the “Details” section of About the Art). In most locations, El Anatsui’s work is displayed on a flat wall, but the slanted walls inside the Frederic C. Hamilton Building where this piece is housed provide for a unique interaction between the art and its environment.
- El Anatsui used some geographical information about Colorado to create this artwork. Ask students what aspects of their local geography they would use as inspiration for a work of art. Divide the class into groups and have them gather data, make inferences, and draw conclusions from maps and other visual representations of the local area. Look at state and city maps, Google Earth, and other satellite images, as well as tables, charts, and thematic maps. What else can we find out about the area? How many interstates and highways are there? What are the populations of the town or city they live in and the surrounding areas? What traffic patterns are there? What water features are in the area? How much rain and sunshine is typical?
- After researching, each group should come up with a presentation of their findings. Remind students that El Anatsui works with whatever is available in his immediate environment. Ask students the following questions: What does the environment inspire you to think about in terms of materials? In terms of design? In terms of look and feel? Encourage students to think about these questions as they decide how to present their findings. They could create a found object sculpture similar to Rain Has No Father?, a poster presentation if that is what is available, or a written description on whatever new or recycled paper their school or home has in abundance. Perhaps they will create a digital representation on an iPhone or computer. Students should choose the materials that best represent their findings and that also represent elements found in their environment.
- Provide time for a gallery walk or other means of sharing the group creations.
- State and city maps of the local area
- Access to Google Earth or other satellite images of the local area
- Internet access for geographical research of the local area
- Atlases, charts, tables, and thematic maps concerning the local environment and geographic region, or access to an area to research this information
- Access to excess items around the school such as recyclables, packaging, etc.
- Writing implements
- Presentation materials and technology as needed
- About the Art section on Rain Has No Father?
- Color copies of Rain Has No Father? for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Social Studies
- Become familiar with Colorado geography
- Become familiar with people in the world who are interconnected by geography
- Understand geographic variables and how they affect people
- Use geographic tools and sources to answer spatial questions
- Visual Arts
- Invent and Discover to Create
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Envision and Critique to Reflect
- Language Arts
- Research and Reasoning
- Reading for All Purposes
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
Who Made It?
El Anatsui [ah-nat-SOO-ee] was born 1944 in Anyako, Ghana—the youngest, he says, of his father’s 32 children. His mother died when he was quite young, and he was raised by an uncle in a Presbyterian mission. As was common in pre-Independent Ghana, school curriculum, and art school curriculum in particular, were almost entirely Western. Anatsui says this left him feeling restless and rootless and he began looking for ‘‘something that had more relationship to me, as someone growing up in an African country.’’
Anatsui is known for creating art out of found materials such as driftwood, clay, paper, and liquor-bottle tops. He draws on a combination of African aesthetic traditions as well as Western Art history. Plans for this specific work began sometime in 2006, when Curator of Native Arts Nancy Blomberg, along with then Curator of African Art Moyo Okediji, commissioned El Anatsui to create something specifically for the Denver Art Museum. To create his “metal cloths,” Anatsui enlists the help of skilled assistants who work with him in his studio cutting, flattening, and shaping metal liquor bottle tops into design blocks conceived by the artist. Anatsui carefully arranges the different elements on the floor of his studio and, once he is satisfied with the design, his assistants use copper wire to stitch the individual pieces together. Anatsui acknowledges the input of his assistants, noting that the “variety which is needed at this scale comes from the style and the feel of each individual hand.”
Anatsui is currently a Professor of Sculpture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he has lectured since 1975. His work appears in numerous international and American art museums, including The British Museum in London, Le Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
What Inspired It?
"Art grows out of each particular situation and I believe that artists are better off working with whatever their environment throws up.” - El Anatsui
While out one day, Anatsui came across a bag of liquor bottle tops that were sitting in a bush. He took them back to his studio thinking that he might be able to use them at some point. “I kept the bottle caps in the studio for several months until the idea eventually came to me that by stitching them together I could get them to articulate some statement,” says Anatsui. As the metal pieces were stitched together, he noticed that his artworks began to resemble fabric cloths. “Incidentally too, the colours of the caps seemed to replicate those of traditional kente cloths” (a West African weaving tradition).
While it would be easy to suggest that Anatsui is recycling materials in his artworks, he doesn’t see it that way. Rather, he describes his use of found materials as a “transformation” of those materials. For Anatsui, the inclusion of bottle caps suggests a link between European and African histories: “To me, the bottle tops encapsulate the essence of the alcoholic drinks which were brought to Africa by Europeans as trade items at the time of the earliest contact between the two peoples.”
When creating Rain Has No Father?, El Anatsui was inspired by the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. The silver cloth is perforated with slashing vertical elements symbolizing “the rain which gives way to life forms.” The three multicolored blocks spread across the top are formed from hundreds of pieces of metal carefully made into tiny open squares—perhaps suggesting clouds holding masses of rain droplets about to be released.
Each bottle top, once flattened, is about 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. Gina Laurin, DAM conservator, who worked on repairing the artwork before it was hung, estimates that 9,000 bottle tops were used to make this particular piece. Given the number of artworks Anatsui has created in the last several years, it is currently hard to find used tops. He now goes straight to the distillery to acquire the bottle caps, making newer shinier works.
Anatsui uses copper wire to hold each piece of aluminum in place. “The process of stitching, especially the repetitive aspect, slows down action and I believe makes thinking deeper,” says Anatsui. “It’s like the effect of a good mantra on the mind.”
The folds are created in the act of hanging the piece. Anatsui prefers museums to install the metal cloths and create folds. Rain Has no Father? arrived at the museum folded up inside a box. Curator Nancy Blomberg began experimenting with small prototypes—digital images on canvas, 8 ½ x 11 inches—to figure out how the piece would be hung in the gallery. While this was helpful, it was during installation that final decisions on how to best display the work of art were made. The curatorial, installation, and conservation staffs helped to devise a system of pulleys that allowed the DAM to hang the piece safely, as well as manipulate it to create the necessary folds. Installation crews spent a day hanging the work.
The surface of this piece is not solid. Light passes through, creating a shadow on the back wall.