El Anatsui’s Behind the Red Moon is a monumental sculptural installation made of thousands of metal bottle tops and fragments. Crumpling, crushing, and stitching them into different compositions, large panels are pieced together to form massive abstract fields of colour, shape and line. The commission builds on Anatsui’s interest in histories of encounter and the migration of goods and people during the transatlantic slave trade. Sourced in Nigeria, the liquor bottle tops used in this commission form part of a present-day industry built on colonial trade routes.
Behind the Red Moon is staged as an artwork in three acts. Visitors are invited to embark on a journey of movement and interaction through the hangings, a dance between bodies and sculptures.
Viewing the hangings from afar, a landscape of symbols is revealed: the moon, the sail, the wave, the earth, and the wall. Up close, the bottle tops’ logos speak to the material’s social lives as commodities of a global industry built on colonial trade routes. Together, the past and present of Africa and Europe merge into sculptural forms that hang in the air and appear to float across the space. The hangings embody Anatsui’s idea of the ‘non-fixed form’, and are part of his highly experimental approach to sculpture.
Anatsui engages with the poetic possibilities of his materials. ‘Each material has its properties, physical and even spiritual,’ he explains. Behind the Red Moon explores elemental forces interwoven with human histories of power, oppression, dispersion and survival.