Last weekend I went to the Brooklyn Museum with a friend to see a watercolor exhibit, but I was unexpectedly taken by an exhibit called Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui. El Anatsui is a globally renowned contemporary artist. He was born in Ghana and now resides in Nsukka, Nigeria. He works with metal and wood, turning them into installation sculptures that fill the room.
In the first room, huge draping sheets hung elegantly from the fifth floor rotunda, complimented by floor structures and wall hangings in subsequent rooms. I was enamored by the art of El Anatsui in part because it took me back to Africa. But also, I love how he uses found material, things some people would consider trash, and turns it into art. He uses bottle caps and soup can covers to create wall size colorful, textured tapestries that come to life with texture and the illusion of movement. They are regal and strong. You have walk up very closely to realize these massive, gorgeous structures are built with trash. He says that his art reflects his nomadic background in addition to our need to care for the earth.
Psalm 139 reminds us that God knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. Nothing became something beautiful– us! Turning trash into art, meticulously knitting together things thrown away as junk and making them beautiful, is such a dignified act. It took my breath away. This art doesn’t create something from nothing, but something from something! A bottle cap served a purpose as a bottle cap. But then once it was popped, it ceased to serve that purpose anymore. Someone deemed it trash, and threw it away. In the bottle cap, instead of seeing something useless, instead of seeing trash, El Anatsui saw material for his next masterpiece!
The exhibit challenged me on a few levels. It reminded me, yet again, that we never throw anything away. We just throw it to a different place. God challenges us to care for God’s creation. The art challenged me to see things in a beautiful light, to look for potential in everything. If El Anatsui can see art when he looks at trash, so can we! Faith is all in how we look at things! The world is beautiful and full of potential! Finally, it also reminded me of the power of God’s grace. God meticulously and lovingly created us, one cell at a time. Nothing became something. Now that we are something, God is still creating us toward God’ s good will. Where we see weakness in ourselves, God sees potential. Where we see ugliness, God sees beauty. Where we see trash, God sees art. God welds together these beautiful tapestries of people to make communities filled with beauty and grace. We are still becoming, still being formed and molded by our God. We are not trash, we are art.
Photo: Flickr user juan tan kwon