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Among Titans and Icons, Artists El Anatsui and Simone Leigh Make Time100 List of World’s Most Influential People


Artist El Anatsui. | Courtesy the artist, October Gallery and Jack Shainman Gallery

 

THE NEW TIME100 LIST is out today and three visual artists are among the honorees: El Anatsui, Simone Leigh, and Wolfgang Tillmans. The annual list pays tribute to an international slate of newsmakers and groundbreakers who are among the most influential people in our society and culture. Anatsui and Leigh are prominent, trailblazing artists who have made inroads in the art world, broadening the scope of what is recognized, valued, and deemed canon-worthy in terms of subject, material, medium, and geography.

Time magazine’s 2023 list features world leaders, climate and science pioneers, artists, entertainers, journalists, and athletes. Among the honorees are U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.); Nigeria’s President-Elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu, whose victory is being challenged in court; and 50 women, including Beyoncé, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Janet Yellen, Laurene Powell Jobs, Brittney Griner, Angela Bassett, and RowVaughn Wells, mother of Tyre Nichols.

In previous years, artists Faith Ringgold (2022), Kehinde Wiley (2018), and Kerry James Marshall (2017) have appeared on the Time100 list. This year the inclusion of Leigh and Anatsui is particularly timely.

Anatsui is Africa’s most critically recognized contemporary artist. He has worked in a variety of mediums, but most notably has invented and perfected a new one. For more than two decades, Anatsui has collected an infinite number of recycled bottle caps and transformed the humble material into monumental artworks that defy convention. Mosaics of dancing color, the works exist at the intersection of sculpture, textiles, abstraction, and assemblage. The beautiful works reference complex issues, including the legacy of colonialism and matters of consumption, waste, and the environment

Ghana-born, Nigeria-based Anatsui received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. This fall, his Turbine Hall Commission will debut at Tate Modern in London. Now in his late 70s, Anatsui’s pioneering accomplishments have paved the way for new generations of African artists who are finding opportunities, collector and curator interest, and unprecedented success around the world.

“El Anatsui is one of the most impactful artists of our time.”
— Chika Okeke-Agulu

 


Artist Simone Leigh. | Photo by Braylen Dion

 

Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based Leigh represented the United States at the 59th Venice Biennale last year. She was the first Black female artist ever selected to stage a solo exhibition in the U.S. Pavilion at the prestigious international exhibition. A crowning highlight was a three-day gathering organized in conjunction with the exhibition. The symposium was comprised of “dialogue, performances, and presentations centered on Black women’s intellectual and creative labor,” themes that stem from her work.

Leigh’s practice focuses on Black female subjectivity and explores issues and ideas around history, race, gender, labor, and monuments. She makes powerful sculptures, large- and small-scale works composed of bronze, porcelain, terracotta, or stoneware. Some of her works take on hybrid forms combining the human figure with architectural silhouettes and references to African culture.

Remaining steadfast to her vision for nearly three decades, about seven years ago Leigh began receiving high-profile awards, commissions, and exhibitions, including the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Wein Artist Prize (2017), the Hugo Boss Prize from the Guggenheim Museum (2018), and an inaugural monumental installation on the High Line in New York (2019). Her recognition has coincided with renewed interest in ceramics, bringing to the fore the work of many more Black ceramic artists, both historic potters and contemporary sculptors. Making its U.S. debut, Leigh’s moving Venice presentation opened last week at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.

“For generations, Black bodies have been stereotyped, marginalized, and commodified, but Simone [Leigh] completely upends that narrative with her sculptures…” — Venus Williams

“What began nearly two decades ago as an annual list of the world’s most influential people has become a community of leaders from across fields, who join together in venues from Singapore and New York City to Dubai and Los Angeles, to spotlight solutions toward a better future,” Time Editors and Edward Felsenthal and Samuel P. Jacobs wrote about choosing the 2023 list. “At this year’s first gathering of TIME100s, in Davos, Switzerland, the overarching theme was the confluence of interconnected challenges, from climate and public health to democracy and equality.”

Divided into six categories, the list includes Titans, Icons, Innovators, Leaders, Pioneers, and Artists—a creative group of 19 visual artists, authors, actors, and musicians. Actor Michael B. Jordan made one of the four Time100 covers. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks is also among the artistic honorees.

 


EL ANATSUI, “Three Sightings,” 2021 (aluminum and copper wire, 280 x 807 cm). © El Anatsui. Courtesy the artist and October Gallery, London. Photo © Jonathan Greet

 

Each year, Time asks a notable figure in their own right, who is familiar with the honoree’s work and influence, to write something brief that captures the essence of their contributions to society, what sets them apart in their field. Performance artist Tourmaline honored Imara Jones, the founder of Translash Media, who is among the Icons on the list. Artist Ai Weiwei wrote about Peng Lifa, another Icon who “unfurled two political banners in central Beijing calling on the Chinese government to put an end to the country’s restrictive zero-COVID policy and one-party authoritarianism.”

Declared a fashion Pioneer by Time, Thom Browne, the designer and chair of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) was heralded by Amy Sherald. “As a painter, I am drawn to Thom’s imagination, analogies, and metaphors,” said Sherald, who was dressed by Browne for the CFDA Awards in November and his Autumn/Winter 2023 show at New York Fashion Week in February.

“As a painter, I am drawn to [Thom Browne’s] imagination, analogies, and metaphors.” — Amy Sherald

In the Artist category, playwright Jeremy O. Harris paid tribute to Tillmans, an inventive Turner Prize-winning German photographer. In his recognition of Parks, actor Sterling K. Brown said, “The theater world knows Suzan-Lori exceptionally well, but the world at large should recognize the genius that she is. She should be a household name.”

More visual artists should be household names too, including Leigh and Anatsui. Chika Okeke-Agulu is a scholar, curator, professor, and co-founder of Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art. He recently co-authored a book about Anatsui and paid tribute to the artist for Time.

“El Anatsui is one of the most impactful artists of our time,” Okeke-Agulu said. “As a sculptor, he shows an incomparable capacity to experiment with his materials, medium, and process.… The breathtaking combination of experimental rigor and inspired vision turns such unassuming materials as printer’s plates or liquor-bottle caps into the magnificent constructions and compositions displayed around the world,…”

Meanwhile, philanthropist and tennis champion Venus Williams celebrated Leigh’s Time100 honor with the following words: “For generations, Black bodies have been stereotyped, marginalized, and commodified, but Simone completely upends that narrative with her sculptures—centering the experiences of Black individuals and celebrating Black bodies, specifically female bodies, for their beauty, strength, and pride. In doing so, she inspires generations of Black women to feel empowered and to situate their experiences as central to American history and culture.” CT

 

FIND MORE Read Time100 tributes to Simone Leigh and El Anatsui

FIND MORE See the full list of 2023 Time100 honorees

 


SIMONE LEIGH, “Las Meninas,” 2019 (terracotta, steel, raffia, porcelain, 182.9 x 213.4 x 152.4 cm / 72 x 84 x 60 inches). | © Simone Leigh. Courtesy the artist and The Cleveland Museum of Art. Photo by Farzad Owrang

 


SIMONE LEIGH, Installation view of “Last Garment,” 2022 (bronze, 54 × 58 × 27 inches / 137.2 × 147.3 × 68.6 cm), U.S. Pavilion, Venice Biennale. | Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo by Timothy Schenck. © Simone Leigh

 


SIMONE LEIGH, Detail of “Overburdened with Significance,” 2011 (porcelain, terra cotta, and graphite (22 x8 x 14 / 55.9 x 20.3 x 25.6 cm). | Bridgitt and Bruce Evans. Photo by Timothy Schnek. © Simone Leigh

 


SIMONE LEIGH, Installation view of “Façade,” 2022 (thatch, steel, and wood, dimensions variable), U.S. Pavilion, Venice Biennale; Shown with “Satellite,” 2022 (bronze, 24 feet × 10 feet × 7 feet 7 inches / 7.3 × 3 × 2.3 m) (overall).| Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo by Timothy Schenck. © Simone Leigh

 


EL ANATSUI, “Stressed World,” 2011 (aluminum and copper wire, 174 x 234 inches / 442 x 594.4 cm). | © El Anatsui. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


Installation view of EL ANATSUI, “In the World But Don’t Know the World” (2019), “El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale,” Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany

 

BOOKSHELF
“Simone Leigh,” the first major monograph of the artist is forthcoming in September. Also consider, the exhibition catalog “Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina.” and “Contemporary Black American Ceramic Artists.” The recently published, “El Anatsui: The Reinvention of Sculpture” co-authored by Okwui Enwezor (1963-2019) and Chika Okeke-Agulu is an unparalleled, fully illustrated critical account of the artist and his practice over the past half century. Anatsui’s Hyundai Commission at Tate Modern will be accompanied by a new publication. For children, “Bottle Tops: The Art of El Anatsu” explores the artist’s life and work.

 

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