Black River

El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born in 1944, active in Nigeria)


105 x 140 inches (266.7 x 355.6 cm)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Aluminum, bottle caps and copper wire

Not On View


Contemporary Art



El Anatsui worked with a team of assistants to assemble discarded liquor-bottle caps and wrappers into a metallic tapestry. When pinned to the wall, its rolling hills and valleys recall a topographical map. At center, a black river—is it oil? people? water? alcohol?—seems to seep across a border. Liquor wrappers with names like “Dark Sailor” and “Black Gold” hint at Africa’s long history of slavery and colonialism, as well as today’s conflicts over natural resources, especially oil. The patterns made by some of the wrappers at lower right resemble traditional Ghanaian kente weavings.


2009, given by the artist to the Center for Contemporary Art, Lagos, Nigeria; 2010, sold by the Center for Contemporary Art to the MFA. (Accession Date: September 22, 2010)

Credit Line

Towles Fund for Contemporary Art, Robert L. Beal, Enid L. Beal and Bruce A. Beal Acquisition Fund, Henry and Lois Foster Contemporary Purchase Fund, Frank B. Bemis Fund, and funds donated by the Vance Wall Foundation


Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY.