The one thing you should see this week

The one thing you should see this week

This week’s pick: El Anatsui’s When I Last Wrote to You About Africa

"Three Continents" (Image provided by Jack Shainman Gallery) 

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, especially for El Anatsui. When the Ghanaian artist came across a bag of discarded liquor bottle tops in 2002, the fortuitous discovery enriched an already fertile body of work by drawing a direct connection between Anatsui’s materials, his art and his people’s history. Now a trademark of his, the salvaged bottle caps and bottleneck wrappers are flattened, twisted and folded, then tied together by the thousands with copper wire to create large-scale, malleable and surprisingly lightweight murals. The result—glimmering, undulating landscapes—references the thorny relationship between Europe and Africa: alcohol was one of the items brought over by Europeans to exchange for African goods, and was later an important commodity in the slave trade.

Anatsui’s sprawling, tapestry-like sculptures—such as 2009’s “Three Continents,pictured above—are joined by earlier, equally awe-inducing pieces. The affecting “Akua’s Surviving Children” uses driftwood from Denmark, the country with the greatest colonial presence in Ghana. Anatsui attached the charred heads of his figures with nails he made in a Danish forge that was once used to create guns for the slave trade.

When I Last Wrote to You About Africa—Anatsui’s first major career retrospective and first Canadian solo show—almost didn’t make it here. Slated to open at New York’s Museum for African Art, it was moved to the ROM when renovations at the MFAA lagged. Consider it another happy accident on Anatsui’s path, this time for us.

The details: Until Jan. 2. $24. Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen’s Park, 416-586-8000,