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 Brooklyn Museum (2013),  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); Fowler Museum at UCLA (2007);  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, titled When I Last Wrote to You About Africa was organized by the Museum for African Art and opened at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, in October 2010. It toured venues in the United States for three years, concluding at the University of Michigan Art Museum
A major exhibition of recent works, entitled "Gravity & Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui," had its New York premier at the Brooklyn Museum in February 2013. Organized by the Akron Art Museum (exhibition: 2012), the exhibition later traveled to the Des Moines Art Center (2013–14) and the Bass Museum of Art in Miami (2014).
In April 2015 the Venice Biennale announced that it has awarded El Anatsui with the Golden Lion for Livetime Achievement. The board called the price "acknowledges not just his recent successes internationally, but also his artistic influence amongst two generations of artists working in West Africa."
- 'Artist biography at the National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.'. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
- 'Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui'. Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York. Retrieved 20 August 2014.
- '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.
- 'El Anatsui: Gawu'. Fowler Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA. (2007). Retrieved 1 July 2014.
- Preece, R.J. (2006). 'El Anatsui interview: Out of West Africa'. Sculpture/artdesigncafe. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- 'AFRICA REMIX: Contemporary Art of a Continent'. Hayward Gallery, London. Retrieved 29 January 2010.
- 'Gravity & Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui'. Exhibition information. Akron Art Museum. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- Russeth, Andrew (April 23, 2015). "2015 Venice Biennale News. Venice Biennale Awards Golden Lions to El Anatsui, Susanne Ghez, Names Jury". author. Retrieved April 23, 2015.
The Boca Raton Art Museum in Florida has a creation by this artist in its permanent collection("Anonymous Creature",using aluminum and copper wire).
- 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
- Inception Gallery Contemporary Art