Anatsui was born in Anyako, and trained at the College of Art, University of Science and Technology, in Kumasi, in central Ghana. He began teaching at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1975, and has become affiliated with the Nsukka group.
Anatsui's preferred media are clay and wood, which he uses to create objects based on traditional Ghanaian beliefs and other subjects. He has cut wood with chainsaws and blackened it with acetylene torches; more recently, he has turned to installation art. Some of his works resemble woven cloths such as kente cloth. Anatsui also incorporates uli and nsibidi into his works alongside Ghanaian motifs.
El Anatsui has exhibited his work around the world, including at the Clark Art Institute (2011), Rice University Art Gallery, Houston (2010), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2008–09); National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C. (2008); Venice Biennale (2007); Hayward Gallery (2005); Liverpool Biennial (2002); the National Museum of African Art (2001); the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (2001); the 8th Osaka Sculpture Triennale (1995); the 5th Gwangju Biennale (2004); and the Venice Biennale (1990).
A retrospective of his work, subtitled When I Last Wrote to You About Africa opened at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, in October 2010. It will be touring North America for the next 3 years.
A major exhibition of recent works, entitled "Gravity & Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui," will have its New York premier at the Brooklyn Museum in February 2013. Organized by the Akron Art Museum (exhibition: 2012), the exhibition will later be on view at the Des Moines Art Center (2013–14) and the Bass Museum of Art in Miami (2014).
- 'Artist biography at the National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.'. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
- 'El Anatsui' exhibition (2011). Clark Art Institute website, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- 'El Anatsui: Gli (Wall). (2010). Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, Texas. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (2008). 'Rich Legacy of African Textiles on View in Metropolitan Museum Exhibition'. Retrieved 29 January 2010.
- 'El Anatsui at NMAA'. (17 January 2008). Artnet. Retrieved 29 January 2010.
- Preece, R.J. (2006). 'El Anatsui interview: Out of West Africa'. Sculpture/artdesigncafe. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- Hayward Gallery, London website. 'AFRICA REMIX: Contemporary Art of a Continent'. Retrieved 29 January 2010.
- Gravity & Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui. Exhibition information. Akron Art Museum. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- El Anatsui's artist web page at the October Gallery, London
- QuickTime Virtual Reality Image of 'Akuas Surviving Children' at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London by Jonathan Greet
- El Anatsui lets chance, collaboration into his work by Doug Britt, Houston Chronicle