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Lesson Plan: Materials and Meaning

A huge coloful tapestry made of woven copper wire strung with found aluminum bottlecaps

El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born Anyako, 1944)
Between Earth and Heaven
Aluminum, copper wire; 86 3/4 x 128 in. (220.3 x 325.1 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Fred M. and Rita Richman, Noah-Sadie K. Wachtel Foundation Inc., David and Holly Ross, Doreen and Gilbert Bassin Family Foundation and William B. Goldstein Gifts, 2007 (2007.96)

Collection Area: Modern and Contemporary Art, African Art
Subject Areas: English Language Arts, Visual Arts, World History
Grades: High School
Topics/Themes: Artist Choices, Art and the Environment


Students will be able to:
  • identify ways in which artists draw upon their environment as a source of inspiration;
  • examine the relationship between materials and meaning in a work of art;
  • form an interpretation of a complex artwork based on close observation and contextual information; and
  • understand and respond to diverse perspectives on a work of art.

National Core Arts Standards

Visual Arts
Responding: Anchor Standard 7: Perceive and analyze artistic work.
Responding: Anchor Standard 8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
Connecting: Anchor Standard 11: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.

Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.*
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

*Art as text

Questions for Viewing

  • Take a close look at the entire artwork. (If the lesson takes place in the Museum, have students stand/sit at a distance from the artwork.)
  • What are your first impressions of this artwork?
  • Move closer to the artwork or zoom in on a detail.
  • Once you have examined it up close, how do your initial impressions of the work change?
  • What do you notice about the materials the artist has used to make the artwork?
  • El Anatsui is a world-renowned artist who lives and works in Nigeria. He creates art from discarded materials, in this case metal liquor bottle tops. The artist describes his process as a "transformation" of these materials, rather than a recycling. What do you notice about how the materials have been transformed?
  • To create this artwork, El Anatsui's assistants bent, flattened, and twisted thousands of bottle caps, and then stitched or wove them together with copper wire.
  • Divide into three groups. Each group will read and discuss one of the following pieces of supplemental information. As a group, discuss what possible meanings you can draw from this artwork, considering this information and your initial observations. Share your interpretations of the artwork with the entire class.
  • Supplemental Information:
    1. The artwork evokes woven fabrics called Kente cloth, made in the artist's native Ghana; members of his own family were Kente cloth makers. Kente cloths have been prized as a sign of prestige and worn in ceremonies and special occasions for hundreds of years.
    2. For Anatsui, liquor bottle caps represent a link between the people of Africa, Europe, and America. They reference liquor bottles that were originally brought to Africa by European traders, who exchanged them for various goods, and eventually even for human beings, who were taken to the Americas. Many enslaved Africans in the Americas worked on farms producing sugar cane, which in turn was used to make the drinks that were exported to Europe and brought back to Africa.
    3. The title of this work is Between Earth and Heaven.


Activity Setting: Museum or Classroom
Materials: Pencils, index cards
Subject Areas: English Language Arts, Visual Arts
Duration: 30 minutes

Gather in groups of four to five classmates. Each group will work together to compose a collaborative poem. In five minutes, brainstorm as many nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs as you can that describe the artwork, writing each word on an index card. Arrange your words in front of the artwork (or image, if the activity takes place in the classroom) to create a "word wall". Compose two lines of poetry that begin with the phrase "Between Earth and Heaven", using the vocabulary words you generated as a group. Share your lines with your group and determine the order in which you will read the collaborative poem. Practice reading your poem out loud. Consider adding movement and varying your rhythm, intonation, and volume.

Hold a poetry slam and perform your collaborative poem for the class.


"El Anatsui: [Between Earth and Heaven]" (2007.96) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (March 2008)

Met Media Video: El Anatsui installing Between Earth and Heaven

Met Media Video: "Between Earth and Heaven": El Anatsui and the Art of African Textiles

Met Media Audio: An interview with El Anatsui

Brooklyn Museum Teaching Resource: Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Museum, 2013.

Objects in the Museum's Collection Related to this Lesson

El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born Anyako, 1944)
Dusasa II
Found aluminum, copper wire, and plastic disks; 236 x 288 x 2 in. (599.4 x 731.5 x 5.1 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, The Raymond and Beverly Sackler 21st Century Art Fund; Stephen and Nan Swid and Roy R. and Marie S. Neuberger Foundation Inc. Gifts; and Arthur Lejwa Fund, in honor of Jean Arp, 2008 (2008.121)
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY

20th century
Rayon, cotton; 99 x 56 1/2 in. (251.5 x 143.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Bill and Gale Simmons, 1993 (1993.384.2)

20th century
Cotton; 103 x 66 in. (261.6 x 167.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Bill and Gale Simmons, 1993 (1993.384.1)

Author: Lisa Guttman and Nicola Giardina
Affiliation: Lisa Guttman, educator; Nicola Giardina, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Date: 2015

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