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.

In 1990, Anatsui had his first important group show at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. That same year, he was also one of three artists singled out in the exhibition “Contemporary African Artists: Changing Traditions”, which was extended for five years. In 2015, he was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, the Venice Biennale’s highest honor. In 2019, Haus der Kunst presented a wideranging traveling survey of his work titled “El Anatsui: Monumental Scale”, curated by Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke- Agulu, and accompanied by a catalogue published by Prestel.

His works are in the public collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Indianapolis Museum of Art; British Museum, London; and Centre Pompidou, Paris, among many others. Major exhibitions of his work have appeared at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown (2011); Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto (2010); National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka (2010); Rice University Art Gallery, Houston (2010); Venice Biennale (2007); and the Biennale of African Art, Senegal (2006).

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, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; The British Museum, London; the Vatican Museum and many more.

He has had solo shows at a major institution at Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town; Haus der Kunst, Munich; Brooklyn Museum, New York; The Bass Museum of Art, Miami. He has been included in group shows at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; MoMA PS1, New York; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; The Broad, Los Angeles; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Palazzo Grassi - Punta della Dogana, Venice; The Bass Museum of Art, Miami and been included in major biennials such as Venice Biennale National Pavilion, and Venice Biennale International Exhibition, Gwangju Biennale, Carnegie International, Prospect New Orleans and the Marrakech Biennale.