A Tour of El Anatsui’s West Africa

Artwork in the Gawu series
Artwork in the Gawu series | © Cliff / WikiCommons
Photo of Lize Okoh
27 June 2018

El Anatsui is a critically-acclaimed Ghanaian sculptor internationally known for his unique bottle-top installations which are made from thousands of pieces of aluminium sourced from bottle recycling stations and sewn together with copper wire to create metallic cloth-like wall sculptures. In 2008 he won the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale, and in 2017 became the first Ghanaian to be awarded the Praemium Imperiale international art prize. Here are some of the places that influenced El Anatsui into becoming one of the most important active artists to emerge from the African continent.

Intermittent Signals 2009 | © Erik Anestad / Flickr


Today he may live in Nigeria, but El Anatsui was born in 1944 in Anyako, a town in the Volta region of Ghana. Anyako is a town inhabited mostly by the Ewe tribe and lies close to the border with Togo.


Alternatively known as “The Garden City” because of its many beautiful species of flowers and plants, Kumasi is a city in the Ashanti region of Ghana, and one of its largest metropolitan areas.

Considered one of the most acclaimed colleges in Ghana, El Anatsui gained his BA at the College of Art at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi from 1965 to 1968. In 1969 he completed his Postgraduate Diploma in Art Education at the same institution.

Donald Stewart's Monument, Kumasi | © Joy Agyepong / WikiCommons


Winneba is a fishing port town in the central region of south Ghana.

After graduating from college, El Anatsui started work as a lecturer from 1969–1975 in the Art Education Department at Specialist Training College (now University of Education) Winneba, Ghana.

Entrance to the North Campus | © Lize Okoh / Culture Trip
Student ready for the Ghana Universities Sporting Competition at Winneba | © Lize Okoh / Culture Trip

Nsukka, Nigeria

Nsukka is a town and Local Government Area in Enugu state, which is situated in the southeast region of Nigeria. It is also the birthplace of the first indigenous Nigerian university, founded by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of Nigeria.

In 1975, El Anatsui moved to Nigeria and began living in Nsukka and working as the Professor of Sculpture in the Fine and Applied Arts Department at University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). Since then, he has held several positions at the institution:

1982–1996 Senior Lecturer, Fine and Applied Arts Department

1998–2000 Head of Department, Fine and Applied Arts Department

1996–2011 Professor of Sculpture, Fine and Applied Arts Department

To date, El Anatsui continues to live and work in Nsukka Nigeria.

Nnamdi Azikiwe Library University of Nigeria, Nsukka | © Udeagbala / WikiCommons

El Anatsui’s exhibitions in Nigeria

Solo exhibitions

2014 El Anatsui: Playing With Chance. Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, Nigeria

1997 Hakpa, French Cultural Centre, Lagos, Nigeria

1991 Old and New: An Exhibition of Sculpture in Assorted Wood, National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria

1982 Sculptures, Photographs, Drawings, Goethe-Institut, Lagos, Nigeria

1979 Broken Pots: Sculpture by El Anatsui, British Council, Enugu, Nigeria

Broken Pots: Sculpture by El Anatsui, Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria

1976 Wooden Wall Plaques, Asele Art Gallery, Nsukka, Nigeria

Most recent group exhibitions

2009 Homecoming, Artists Alliance Gallery, Accra, Ghana

2009 Promoter-of- Nigerian-Art Series, Goethe Institute, Lagos, Nigeria

2007 Living Masters, Terra Culture, Lagos, Nigeria

2006 DAK’ART 2006, 7th Biennale of African Art, Dakar, Senegal

2005 In the Making: Materials and Process, Michael Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

2005 AKA . . . of Age 2005, Maison de France, Lagos, Nigeria

2003 Homage to Asele, National Museum Lagos, Lagos, Nigeria

1996 Group Exhibition, Avant-Garde Gallery, Kaduna, Nigeria

1995 AKA ’95, Bona Gallery, Enugu, Nigeria

1995 AKA ’95, Didi Museum, Lagos, Nigeria

1990 The Calabash 1st Art Exhibition, The Calabash, Lagos, Nigeria

1990 AKA ’90, The Presidential Hotel, Enugu, Nigeria

1990 AKA ’90, Goethe-Insitut, Lagos, Nigeria

1990 Achebe Celebration Exhibition, Continuing Education Centre, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria

Exhibitions in Ghana

1974 Tekarts Expo 5, National Arts Centre, Accra; Specialist Training College, Winneba, Ghana

1969–1970 Ghana National Collection, National Arts Centre, Accra, Ghana

Gravity and Grace Monumental Works by El Anatsui, Brooklyn Museum 30 | © Eva Blue / Flickr

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