El Anatsui is a Ghanaian sculptor who has spent much of his achievement-packed career living and working in Nigeria. El Anatsui currently runs a very robust studio practice, situated in Nsukka, Enugu, Nigeria, and Tema, Ghana, where some of the most beautiful and touching works of art in the world today are created. He is one of the most highly acclaimed artists in African History and foremost contemporary artists in the world. El Anatsui uses resources that are typically discarded such as liquor bottle caps and cassava graters to create sculptures that defy categorization. His use of these materials reflects his interest in reuse, transformation, and an intrinsic desire to connect to his continent while transcending the limitations of place. His work can interrogate the history of colonialism and draw connections between consumption, waste, and the environment, but at the core is his unique formal language that distinguishes his practice.
"The amazing thing about working with these metallic ‘fabrics’ is that the poverty of the materials used in no way precludes the telling of rich and wonderful stories. I believe that an artwork is something that the viewer, too, should play some positive role in shaping." - El Anatsui
Anatsui is well-known for large scale sculptures composed of thousands of folded and crumpled pieces of aluminium bottle caps sourced from local alcohol recycling stations and bound together with copper wire. These intricate works, which can grow to be massive in scale, are luminous and weighty, meticulously fabricated yet malleable. He leaves the installations open and encourages the works to take new forms every time they are installed.
El Anatsui was born in 1944 in Anyako, Ghana, a citizen of the Ewe Nation and son of a master weaver of Kente cloth. He acquired art training at the College of Art, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, one of the highest-ranking universities in Ghana. In 1975, when he had graduated from the university, El began teaching at the Fine Arts Department, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He taught at UNN for over four decades as a Professor of Sculpture.
As a member of the faculty at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, El Anatsui started to incorporate Uli and Nsibidi of southeastern Nigeria into his work alongside his indigenous Adinkra symbols and other Ghanaian motifs and ideographic and logographic symbolism. He soon after became affiliated with Nsukka Group, a group with a shared vision to revive the practice of Uli and incorporate its designs into contemporary art.
El Anatsui’s works can be found amongst some of the most prestigious art collections in the world including permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; The Museum of Modern Art, NY; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; The British Museum; the Vatican Museum and many more.